While the ongoing conflict is often being framed in geo-political terms, it’s sometimes easy to forget the human cost, especially the elderly Ukrainian population who have lost everything and have nowhere to go even when the crisis ends
Based on an article by Emily Schrader | YnetNEWS.com
As the conflict in Ukraine rages on, the situation for the Jewish community and all of those it supports, is becoming increasingly dire.
In an interview with Ynet, Chief Rabbi of Kyiv, Jonathan Markovitch shared some of the most touching stories from the battlefront. Among them is the story of Konstantina “Nina” Vaslovskaya, a Ukrainian woman in her eighties from Kyiv, who came to know the Jewish community in an unexpected way.
Unfortunately, as Rabbi Markovitch explains, there are currently thousands of Ukrainians living in abject poverty as a result of the crisis, many of the older generations with no place to go. Elderly and sick Ukrainians are unable to flee the country, and unlike in Israel, there are no protective shelters.
Countless elderly are at serious risk of death or injury from missiles, and those who are not injured still struggle to be able to take care of themselves in the most basic ways due to financial constraints or physical limitations.
Part of the work of Rabbi Markovitch is, of course, to assist the elderly Jewish community with food, medical assistance (if possible) and helping them navigate the difficult reality in Ukraine today. It was through this assistance that Nina, who is not Jewish, became acquainted with Rabbi Markovitch.
“The truth is that we came to her by mistake, but what is happening today in Kyiv is that there is a big problem because of the situation, so the food is very expensive and there is not enough…Yes, we feed [and help] thousands of Jews, but not only Jews…” said Rabbi Markovitch.
Nina lives nearby the synagogue and her husband, Valery, contacted the Rabbi to ask for assistance in caring for Nina, who is ill and bedridden. On top of that, part of her home was destroyed in a missile strike.
It was for this reason that Rabbi Markovitch discovered Nina’s incredible family story. In 1943, as World World II waged on, her parents did something that took tremendous courage. They rescued a Jewish father and son from Khmelik during the Holocaust, and hid them for 8 months. For this, they were later recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by a Ukrainian Jewish organization.
At the time, Rabbi Markovitch explained, Nina was just a small girl, but she remembers the experience and understood the gravity of the situation. Today, she doesn’t know what happened to the family they rescued, however she knows that the mother and siblings had already been killed by the Nazis when the father and son went into hiding at her family’s home.
During that period, Nina said that “some of the neighbors knew that Jewish family was there, and no one spoke. No one told them, because they didn’t support the Germans.” Furthermore, “the whole family was afraid that if someone told the Germans, then they would kill them all.”
Even more stressful, Nina had several siblings and a Nazi who was stationed there, used to come play with her and her sister frequently, terrifying the father for the safety of his entire family. Nina’s father had to creatively find an excuse to discourage the Nazi from visiting the family, and ultimately claimed that the neighbors would talk due to the age of Nina’s sister. Luckily for everyone, the excuse worked and the Nazi stopped visiting Nina’s family.
After the war, the Jewish man and his son left, telling Nina’s family that they “would remember this for the rest of his life, because he saved his life. The Germans were looking for him, the Germans were simply looking for this family, and couldn’t find it,” explained Rabbi Markovitch.
Today, Rabbi Markovitch, touched by Nina’s story, is sponsoring her, along with many other Ukrainians in need – overseeing the renovation of her home as well as ensuring she received proper medical care and food. This is a task which requires a great deal of patience, financial support, but above all a genuine desire to help the thousands of elderly who are stuck in Ukraine, many of whom are Holocaust survivors themselves.
“We try to do all that can be done,” he says, adding that someone from the community is there to assist Nina every two weeks, at least.
“I can’t [help] everyone, but I try. Especially those who really had a relationship with the Jewish community, and I’ll tell you why I do it… not because I like visiting their homes so much, it’s very, very difficult to visit these people at home…[but] because it’s true, we help people first, and beyond that, sometimes you can hear amazing stories, just so, so many amazing things.”
As the crisis rages on, Rabbi Markovitch emphasized that there are countless elderly who would not have even made it to this point without the generous contributions from the public to help those in need in Ukraine. “These people suffer very much. They suffer all the time, and certainly during the conflict, the situation is not easy,” he said.