Feature Story: Eyes Wide Open: JDC Helps Children at Risk Thrive in Most Challenging Conditions in FSU

Sometimes you see a flower in the desert and wonder: Who brought it here? How did this beautiful plant come to this place?  Yiddish Writer M. Rosenberg

ZHITOMER, UKRAINE, April 3, 2011, 1:30 p.m. – Their family tree is broken and their living conditions are as barren as winter branches, yet Vlada Odinetz, 12, and her brother, Yaroslav Velikiy, 8, are blossoming like desert flowers, thanks in great part from the Federation-funded JDC. 

Vlada’s father passed away in 2003 when she was four.  Her mother remarried and gave birth to Yaroslav, but the new father completely abandoned the family.  Due to the bad economy, their mother works “in the shade” (in a non-registered job) without insurance or a pension.  On top of that, their grandmother is out of work.  Her civil husband is an alcoholic who has caused constant conflicts in their home.  

Because of their financial troubles, the family was recently dispossessed from a government-owned flat for not paying their utilities and now lives in a dilapidated two-bedroom hovel with no utilities on the outskirts of Zhitomer, Ukraine.  To reach their home, one has to walk a broken cobblestone path strewn with chickens and wild dogs. 

Fortunately, a neighbor has tied up a much larger dog, but that doesn’t stop it from leaping against a poorly constructed fence toward the pathway to the home, where the three generations make their life – the grandmother in one tiny room; the mother and two children in a slightly larger one. 

Vlada and Yaroslav are two of more than 27,000 impoverished Jewish children and their families receiving critical assistance through JDC in the Former Soviet Union. Through a Jewish Family Services model, the children receive ongoing material help such as food, warm clothing and shoes.  They also participate in Jewish identity activities through the JDC’s Beiteinu program. 

“They are great kids,” said their grandma, 61-year-old Elena Krasnogolovetz, who takes care the home and children while their mother works. “They each have different skills.  Vlada is very creative.  They’re always busy.” 

That’s an understatement in Vlada’s case – there are many petals to this flower.  She loves school, reads a lot, plays piano, sings and publishes poems.  She spends time at the Hesed Day Center using the computer.  She wants to be an interior designer some day. 

“She is interested in everything,” said the proud grandma.   

Vlada has a big occasion coming up – her bat mitzvah – on May 15, 2011.  “It’s on Israel Independence Day!” she says proudly. 

Yaroslav is all boy.   He loves playing with his pet cat at home and visits the local Hesed for kids’ activities.  He is a good student with a good heart, said his grandma.  During the recent Purim holiday, he made some wood carvings and gave them to local elderly clients at the day center. 

“Their eyes are wide open to the whole world,” said Elena. 

May they continue to grow and blossom for the world to see as well.


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