Zinaida's Story: War, Resilience, and Survival in Ukraine

You can help our global partner JDC provide support to the Ukrainian Jewish community

The war in Ukraine is causing food scarcity, insecurity, and violence. 200,000 members of Ukraine’s Jewish community are especially vulnerable. Caring for our global Jewish community is core to the work that we do as a Federation. That’s why we are asking for your help to provide lifesaving support in Ukraine through our longstanding partner, The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).  

Zinaida sitting on couch
(Courtesy of JDC)

Zinaida Grutman lives in Kyiv and relies on JDC for food, medicine, and homecare. Amidst the crisis in Ukraine, Zinaida and so many others like her need our help now. Below is an excerpt of Zinaida’s story, originally told by her and published by JDC.

Zinaida was born on the precipice of World War II. As a young girl, her parents tried their best to teach her and her brother Jewish traditions and values, but they had to be careful due to Soviet repression of Jewish life.

She and her family met challenge after challenge, hardship after hardship as the scourge of the Nazis swept across Europe, forcing the evacuation of Jewish people in droves. Zinaida, her mother, and her brother fled Kyiv for Central Asia and eventually settled in a city called Osh where they remained through the war, while her father was called to the front.

“If you ask me about my childhood, I always remember the evacuation first.” Zinaida explained, “moving across the continent, into the unknown, was both a vivid and terrifying experience.”

Zinaida holding photo
(Courtesy of JDC)

When Word War II ended, Zinaida’s family travelled back to Kyiv. She had a dream to become a philologist — an expert in other languages, which never came to fruition. Instead, Zinaida married and had a son. She worked as a librarian and her husband, a veteran, worked as a lawyer. They were happily married for 42 years.

Zinaida lost her son to a battle with appendicitis when he was 10. Years later, her husband died of cancer. "I buried my entire family. I felt so much pain when my son died that it’s difficult to put into words. I was entirely alone,” Zinaida said.

After her husband passed away, with no one to rely on besides herself, Zinaida found help through her local JDC-supported Hesed social welfare center.

Today, Zinaida has lost most of her vision which makes it hard for her to enjoy one of her favorite past times: reading. It has also made other daily tasks more difficult. For this reason, she is grateful for her JDC home-care worker, Natalya, who she said “became [her] eyes and ears.”

Zinaida and Natalya
(Courtesy of JDC)

Zinaida takes great comfort in Natayla, especially in the absence of her late husband and son. Not only does Natayla cook and clean for Zinaida, she provides much-appreciated daily company. “When Natalya arrives, everything feels fine,” Zinaida said. Natalya is a professionally trained Spanish translator. Zinaida, who always wanted to study foreign languages but never enrolled, enjoys interesting conversations with her home-care worker and friend.

Natayla and JDC have helped Zinaida from feeling completely isolated during the pandemic. “When my son and husband died, I was alone in the world, she said. “Then JDC entered my life.” Zinaida has survived war, hunger, cold, and a deadly pandemic. It is our duty to continue to provide essential services to her, and others like her, during the crisis currently unfolding in Ukraine. "I don’t think I could have survived old age, alone, without help from JDC and the Claims Conference,” said Zinaida.” “Thank G-d for them.”

Your gift can save lives.

Give to Federation’s Ukraine Emergency Fund so we can help JDC continue providing life-saving services to people like Zinaida. 100% of your support will go towards helping those most vulnerable. Your gift to the Ukraine Emergency Fund will:

  • Provide uninterrupted welfare services to 40,000 Jewish elderly.
  • Mobilize staff and thousands of volunteers to reach beneficiaries in remote locations.
  • Assist internally displaced people and refugees in multiple locations.
  • Secure temporary housing for people in transit.
  • Help people make aliyah to Israel.
  • Bolster security at Hesed social welfare centers and other Jewish organizations.
  • Purchase satellite phones to maintain communication across the region.
  • Our Bay Area Jewish community is urgently needed to exercise the power of our collective giving—kehillah—one of our most fundamental precepts. As Jewish community, all of us are responsible for one another.

Help us save lives in Ukraine


Tags: Ukraine, JDC


March 04, 2022


The Federation