Debbie Kardon, executive director of Action for Post-Soviet Jewry

Holding onto a little bit of light in Ukraine



Holding onto a little bit of light in Ukraine

Debbie Kardon, executive director of Action for Post-Soviet Jewry

Last Thursday, Debbie Kardon, executive director of Waltham-based Action for Post-Soviet Jewry, was on a Zoom call that reflected the organization’s challenges in providing relief to war-torn Ukraine, especially to the elderly and disabled.

The call involved three colleagues working on the ground in Ukraine. Shortly before it started, one of these participants – a translator – unexpectedly lost all electrical power, including Internet access, and had to switch to her phone. Another participant subsequently suffered a power loss, and because it was getting cold, she had to put on extra layers of clothing while switching from her desktop to her laptop. The third Ukrainian-based participant experienced her own power loss near the end of the call and disappeared from the screen.

“Somebody said I might have a front-row seat to history, but these women are the living history,” Kardon said. “What they’re living with day-to-day … is inconceivable.

“Imagine cooking dinner, a kid trying to get schoolwork done, other things on a daily basis. This is what they’re living with.”

The conflict has passed its tenth month, and Action-PSJ continues to help those in need. This year, the organization has provided over 15,000 tons of aid, as well as emergency stipends totaling more than $76,000, through its coordinators. The organization liaises with 15 communities in Ukraine and aims to expand to six others.

“They’re living in conditions that are just unbelievable to us,” Kardon said. “They’re doing it because they want to hold their state. They’re staying there because they want to do their part, keeping their homes, showing their support for Ukraine.”

Asked about any Hanukkah-specific aid efforts in Ukraine, she replied, “I know the Chabads are celebrating Hanukkah. There are menorahs. The whole idea that a little bit of light dispels the darkness has been a big theme of what we’re talking about, what we’re holding onto in Ukraine. The theme of Hanukkah is very prevalent this year.”

On Nov. 18, Action-PSJ released an online book titled “Indestructible Beauty,” which consists of artwork by Ukrainian artist Nadiya Sadirova. Each illustration depicts the conflict in a different way, including a bloody birthday cake grimly commemorating the 100th day of the war.

“Each piece in itself, I think, is stunning,” Kardon said. “To flip through [the book] is unbelievable.”

“This is my craft, my way of communication, and what I love to do,” Sadirova said in a statement. “I was born and raised in Ukraine, and the war now serves as a background of my life. I want to touch hearts and help people understand Ukrainian life in the midst of this invasion. This project for Action-PSJ has provided me with such an opportunity.”

Kardon marveled that Sadirova has had to endure two challenges while starting out in her career in her 20s: first, the COVID-19 pandemic and now, the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Instead of traveling the world, Kardon noted, Sadirova stayed home and “documented her [experiences], what were her reflections on what was happening in the world. These would be important insights for us.”

Action-PSJ’s current wish list for Ukraine includes items to keep people warm, such as heaters and clothing – hand warmers, heat vests, thermal underwear and socks. Flashlights, reflective clothing and headlamps are also in demand in the winter darkness.

“Things that make light and heat,” Kardon summarized.

She added, “We’re talking about the elderly, 80 years old, 90 years old, figuring out how to use different stuff. … The days of no electricity are really hard.

“I don’t know if their stories get out so much, of an everyday person in Ukraine staying with it, keeping the faith. They are the resistance movement. They are the foot soldiers in this horrific war.” Θ

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