• Nearly 100 elderly are supported by C4I’s sponsorship program in Zaporozhe | Photos: Anemone Rüger
SOS Ukraine

Oppressed, but not abandoned

Anemone Rüger - 29 March 2022

Jewish elderly continue to receive care through C4I’s sponsorship program

Zaporozhe has been in the news lately as a city that had its nuclear power plant partly come under Russian control, and as the closest city receiving refugees escaping the hell of Mariupol. Zaporozhe has also been in the hearts and minds of nearly 100 Dutch sponsors who have adopted a Jewish holocaust survivor or needy elderly person over the past year through C4I’s sponsorship program.

When I visited the city for the first time a few years ago, I felt taken back to Ukraine’s late Soviet years. Travelers enter the city via a humongous bridge spanning the mighty Dnepr River as vast as the sea, offering a view of the city’s immense water plant. Some massive buildings on the wide avenues still carry Soviet inscriptions, such as “Dedicated to the hard-working coke miners” or “Lenin Boulevard.” Even though many factories have died over the decades following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the air of a once grand and busy industrial center still hovered over Zaporozhe, mixed with some western savoir vivre offered in local cafes like “Lvivsky Platzki.”

Much of Zaporozhe’s architecture is reminiscent of Soviet times

Zaporozhe, too, has what every city in Ukraine has among its local historic sites – an area with large mass graves dating back to World War II. Nearly 3,800 Jewish residents are estimated to have been shot there between the fall of 1941 and the spring of 1942. After decades of continued anti-Semitism under Soviet rule, another war came dangerously close with the outbreak of the military conflict in Ukraine’s separatist area in the Donbass in 2014. Many refugees turned to Zaporozhe’s Jewish community for help then. All this is history now as another war is beginning to close in on Zaporozhe since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.


Photos: Click on the photo to enlarge


Many cities in the north, east and south have been shelled and marred by Russian fire. Over ten million Ukrainians have fled their hometowns to other parts of Ukraine or to neighboring countries. While supplies are getting harder to come by each day, the staff of Zaporozhe’s Jewish welfare fund “Hesed” still do what they can to help those in need, including the 100 or so elderly supported by C4I’s sponsorship program.

“We have to become really creative to still buy supplies for the needy in our community,” said Yelena from the welfare fund. “There are only a few supermarkets left that still take bank transfers. But we found one and just received the goods. The situation is getting more and more difficult. Today the manager said that from now on they will only sell a maximum of two pieces per item. So if we want to buy 100 pieces of something, we have to send 50 people to the supermarket. But we will manage – if only we can help the needy in this way.”

Jewish Community staff helping purchase, repack and distribute much needed food items for the needy


In the city center, Yelena’s volunteers took some of the needy to the supermarket so they could pick what they wanted. There is no public transportation anymore, so the different neighborhoods are not connected. Hesed also transferred some money to people’s personal bank cards – those who live close enough that they can walk to the supermarket.

“We would like to say a huge ‘Thankyou’ for the emergency transfer you made!” said Yelena. “It is such a big help! It’s simply incredible! There are no words to say how thankful we are. A big hug to everyone involved!”

Zaporozhe’s Hesed staff is also responsible for many outlying communities, including some that have come under Russian occupation, making operations even more difficult. But the team refuses to give up. “The situation is especially hard in Melitopol and Berdyansk. There are long lines for everything. People register a week ahead, and then they still have to wait outside the shop from 6 a.m. until after noon. They recently had temperatures of minus 10 degrees Celsius. That’s impossible for an elderly person, of course.” But even in those towns, Yelena’s staff found ways to help. “Miraculously, my volunteers were able to get some cash so they could buy food for the needy. We are happy for every item we can still buy. Oil is only sold from a big tank now, so our ladies went to the shop with empty water bottles to fill them up.” Yelena’s staff is now busy making smaller food parcels from the wholesale purchases to deliver to the needy.

“It was thanks to your support that we were able to work out a system to distribute aid to each of the towns in our area.”

“People are so thankful, you cannot imagine!” said Yelena. “It was thanks to your support that we were able to work out a system to distribute aid to each of the towns in our area. And through your help, we were able to buy a strategic supply of much needed items that will sustain people for a while. Your help to us is invaluable now!”


Needy community member in Zaporozhe receiving a food parcel


Alina from C4I’s team in Ukraine has poured much love an energy into Zaporozhe’s community over the past year or so, visiting the adoptees in the program several times. One of her darlings is an elderly lady called Ludmila who lost her husband a year ago. “It felt for Ludmila like her life had come to an end. I’ve visited her three times and she could not help crying. But the last time I saw her, she started smiling again. I know for sure that the love and care we brought to her have changed this woman’s life.”

Alina also recalls a special moment the team has experiences many times with elderly in the sponsorship program – the moment when they realize that their supporter is not a big government organization, but a real person lifting them out of the anonymity they are so used to.

“When I visited one of the elderly, Natalia, I happened to have the photo of her sponsor with me and showed it to her. You should have seen the expression on her face! She just couldn’t believe that a real person in another country cares about her!”

The love shared during these visits in the past has created memories that Zaporozhe’s Holocaust survivors and elderly are now feeding on. Combined with the material help that continues to come through their sponsors, these happy memories comfort and remind the elderly that even under extreme circumstances, they are not forgotten, but loved and cared for.


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Nearly 100 elderly are supported by C4I’s sponsorship program in Zaporozhe | Photos: Anemone Rüger

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