Surviving between rockets and sky-rocketing prices:

June 8, 2022
Surviving Between Rockets
Left: Yefim during a visit by C4I team member Anemone last year. Center: Alla, who survived WWII in hiding. Right: Nikolayev’s elderly depend on the Jewish community to help them survive.
Nikolayev’s Jewish elderly continue to receive support from Christians for Israel through the Jewish community 

The city of Nikolayev, strategically located between Odessa and Kherson on the Black Sea in Ukraine’s south, has been targeted by Russian attacks since the beginning of the Russian invasion Feb. 24. Many have left the city for safer lands, including many of the synagogue’s volunteers and many of the caregivers employed by Hesed, the Jewish welfare organization. But the jobs quickly filled up again as unemployment is rampant. 

“People are somewhat getting used to the war situation,” said Mikhail from Hesed. “The alarm goes off slightly less. But there is also a lot of tension. Everyone understands that the break doesn’t mean it’s over.” 

“Most of the factories and businesses are closed, so people have no income,” explained Yelena, who runs the sponsorship program on behalf of the synagogue in Nikolayev. “While we help people who want to make Aliyah and go to Israel, most of our seniors are still here.” Those who need personal care continue to get supported through the local staff, which also includes many spouses who don’t want to leave as long as their husbands have to stay to defend the country. 

One of the fragile elderly is Alla, who is still around and doesn’t plan to go anywhere. “Just a month ago, her husband died,” said Yelena. “The authorities didn’t let anyone get close to the cemetery as the area has been under fire and is full of mines. She is blind. It’s very hard for her. She gets scared with every alarm she hears. She has a daughter in Russia, but she clings to her city of Nikolayev.”

“This is my home city,” said Alla when I reached her at home. “I already bought a gravesite. I want to be buried next to my husband.” C4I team member Alina was able to visit her in early 2022 and bring food and a blanket. “Please convey my greetings my sponsor in Australia. I am so thankful that someone cares about me.” 

“If you have money, you can buy food. There are enough supplies in the city now,” said Yelena. “But most people don’t have that money. We see many people turn to the synagogue for help now whom we have never met before. They became needy as a result of the war. We give out food parcels every week.” 

One of the biggest problems is the near-complete lack of gas and diesel in the country. “We bought medicines for people when we had the opportunity recently, but now we don’t know how to deliver it. Taxi costs have gone through the roof. Everything has become expensive.” 

Yet Yelena is not one who gives up easily. She has now worked out a system to support the elderly with food vouchers so they or their caregivers can buy items locally. 

Yefim was awakened by the sounds of war at 5 a.m. when I called the other day. “No, it’s not really getting better. They were shooting again, especially at night.” Yefim shared that the city didn’t have water for a month. “Nikolayev is connected to the water system in Kherson where the big Dnepr River flows. Kherson has been completely occupied by Russian forces. They must have blocked the water pipes. So we were without water for a long time. Now our city authorities here in Nikolayev found a way to provide water from our smaller local river, the Southern Bug. It’s not for drinking, though. Just to wash and clean.” 

Unrenovated part of Nikolayev’s historic synagogue
Unrenovated part of Nikolayev’s historic synagogue

Yefim’s entire family lives in Nikolayev—his wife and two daughters with their families. “I even have a great-granddaughter, she is already 15!” he proudly stated. The war hit very close to home only recently. “Three weeks ago there was a big Russian attack on Nikolayev. They bombed the city administration. My granddaughter works there. She was just arriving at work in the morning when the shelling began. 38 people were killed. She was lucky, she was only injured. She is still in hospital in Odessa.” 

I invited Yefim for a cup of coffee in Jerusalem. Who knows—the family may wake up one morning and call C4I’s number in the booklet delivered with the last food parcel and inform us that they want to make Aliyah to Israel.  

“Thank you for what you do for us,” said Yefim. “It does make each day much easier when you know that someone in the world cares about you!”

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Anemone Rüger

Christians for Israel Coordinator for Holocaust Survivors & Elderly Sponsorship Program in Ukraine

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