As we walk into Sofia and Nikolai’s small apartment, carrying a package filled with the Passover foods that will allow them to celebrate the holiday with dignity, Sofia immediately apologizes for the fact that Nikolai has difficulty standing. "He's just had an operation on his leg," says Sofia. "In addition to our other problems, we have to make a lot of trips to the doctor and transportation is very expensive.”
Elina Gurovich, The Fellowship's local coordinator for the With Dignity and Fellowship program, introduces us to the couple: "This is Sofia and Nikolai. They're both Holocaust survivors. They made aliyah [immigrated to Israel] from Kiev, Ukraine. They're also my adopted grandmother and grandfather, and I love them.”
Sofia talks about her recollections during the Holocaust: "I was 4 years old in 1941 when the Nazis occupied Kiev. They were bombing the city constantly. My father had already been drafted into the Soviet army to fight the Nazis. Someone told us we needed to take our documents, get out of the city and run away immediately. I fled with my grandmother, my mother and my aunt. It wasn't easy. My aunt was pregnant at the time. But we didn't have any choice; we knew that if we stayed in Kiev we would all be killed.
“We got on a cargo train and made it to Ulyanovsk, Russia. My only real memory is being hungry and cold all the time. We lived in a barn and didn't always have something to eat. Those were hard years, but we survived. My mother's mother and 12 other family members weren't so lucky. They weren't able to leave Kiev; they were all murdered by the Nazis during the massacre at Babi Yar.”
Sofia continues: "My father was wounded in battle and discharged from the army. At that point he came to join us in Ulyanovsk, where we stayed until the end of the war. In 1945 my father went back to Kiev to try and make some money. He was able to send for us in 1946 and the family reunited.”
Sofia then begins talking about their difficulties: "Every day is a struggle. Nikolai just had an operation because there was a blood clot in one of the veins in his leg. He also has a heart condition. He's in lots of pain and he's not healing quickly. I have to take care of him and there are lots of complications. Nikolai needs to take many medicines and they're very expensive.
“We also need to pay for our apartment, for food, and for all of life's daily expenses. It's very hard for us to get by. We always need to think about what's most important and what we need the most. I try to save money from our small social security pension, but I just can't do it. It's impossible. Thank God for The Fellowship and Elina. Sometimes I call her and ask her to take us to the hospital or the doctor because we can't afford the bus.”
Sofia explains that in addition to the monthly supermarket food card the couple receives from The Fellowship that allows them to purchase the food they need, she also received glasses and Nikolai received a bed from the Emergency Fund.
"I don't know what to say except thank you very much," says Sofia. "I had an operation on my eyes and we couldn't afford the special glasses I needed. Nikolai also needed a separate bed after the operation. These are things we couldn't buy without your help. More than the financial help, which is so important, I want to say thank you for all the attention you show us. I want to thank you for your big heart. What can I say? I feel as if nobody else cares. The attention, the hugs, and the love we get from The Fellowship shows us that somebody does care.”
When asked how the food package we've brought will help them celebrate the holiday, Sofia smiles, "Passover is celebrated with fish, matzo, and soup. Now I'll be able to make all these things if the children come. Thank you!”