‘It’s Good for Us Here’

The Fellowship  |  November 1, 2019

Family of five holding up the Israeli flag as they just made Aliyah.

Since war broke out between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian government five years ago, the Onyshchenko family, who are Jewish, have endured one crisis after another.

But now, grandparents Olena and Oleksandr, mother Anna, 11-year-old granddaughter Sofia, and 2-year-old grandson Anton have made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) aboard a Fellowship Freedom Flight.

“The authorities told us to stock the storeroom under the house with food, a first aid kit, blankets and other items in case of a bombing,” Olena says. “I remember there were incidents of shelling in the middle of the night, in the dark, and we would go down there with my granddaughter. I thought about the Holocaust and about the Jews who had to hide. During such moments, I constantly thought to myself that if there was a direct hit on our home, it would simply collapse. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.”

The family’s friends were injured during the shelling and other neighbors’ homes were damaged. “Our house was also damaged, mainly by the shelling. We had to repair the roof and, from time to time, the windows that were shattered. The reality of the last few years has been simply unbearable.”

A New and Painful Reality

War was a new reality the family had to get used to. “We saw the City Hall building burning. We saw the airport being bombed. There was shooting and shelling everywhere. We were helpless. We didn’t know what to do and how to go on continue living.”

As the fighting worsened, Olena fled with her granddaughter to a friend’s home far away, as her grandson had not been born yet. “Then they bombed the airport in Donetsk. My husband and daughter had to stay at their place of work and couldn’t flee. I was already retired by that time, so I took my granddaughter and we boarded the train. We were on the train, and we heard gunfire and bombs everywhere. Pictures from the movies I’ve seen about World War II ran through my head.”

A few months later, Olena and her granddaughter returned to the family. “The situation had become a kind of routine. There was shooting and shelling. People were wounded and homes were damaged. There was lots of uncertainty. But somehow we tried to live within this reality.”

A Brighter Future in the Holy Land

But because the family was Jewish, there was perhaps another reality — aliyah to Israel.

They had always been active in Jewish life in Ukraine. They celebrated the Jewish holidays, attended lectures, and their grandchildren participated in activities for kids. However, they didn’t discuss these things with their neighbors. “We didn’t hide the fact that we were Jews,” explains Olena, “but we didn’t talk about our connection to Israel or our visits to the Jewish Center and our participation in the various activities. Anti-Semitism it’s something that’s always in the air. If, for example, we would have talked about our celebration of the Jewish holidays, they would have laughed at us and the children. So we simply didn’t talk about it.

“We couldn’t make aliyah at first because my husband’s mother was very old and sick. We stayed with her until her last days and took care of her. Six months ago, when she died, we decided to make aliyah.

“I’ve worked all of my life,” Olena continues. “My husband worked as a driver. Because of the deteriorated economic situation in Ukraine, everything we’ve worked for and saved our entire lives just isn’t worth anything.

“We always thought that when we would make aliyah, we would sell our home, and it will be easier for us to start our lives in Israel. Unfortunately, we were forced to make aliyah with only the clothing on our backs.

Living a Proud Jewish Life

“The assistance of The Fellowship has helped us greatly. We are very grateful for it. Our pensions were also very low due to the economic situation in Ukraine in recent years. When taxes, payments, and the prices in supermarkets skyrocketed, it became very hard for us to make ends meet.”

However, even if the economic and security situation in Ukraine was livable, they would have still made aliyah. “Although we had never visited Israel,” says Olena, “we feel at home here. In Israel, we don’t need to feel embarrassed or hide the fact that we’re Jews. We can celebrate the holidays and live a Jewish life without shame. Our grandchildren are still getting used to a new country and are afraid they will not have friends, but they are really happy.”

Now, Olena is smiling. “It’s good for us here.”

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