The Ukrainian Righteous Among the Nations are braving the war but need help

More than 40 families of the Ukrainian Righteous Among the Nations refused to leave the territory of Ukraine during the war. From 24 February 2022, when the Russian Federation began bombing all of Ukraine, several Jewish organizations immediately reached out to the families of the Righteous Among the Nations, offering help with moving to Israel and Poland. Most families have decided to stay in their homeland.

Marharyta Ormotsadze

We continue our series of publications about the families of the Ukrainian Righteous Among the Nations honored by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Complex and the State of Israel. In this text, we tell how their families are doing during the war in Ukraine.

It was 26 January 2022, the eve of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day of Remembrance, when Russia unleashed yet another missile attack on Kyiv. A fragment of a Russian missile hit the house where the family of the Righteous Among the Nations Vasyl Mykhailovskiy, Sr. lived together with the family of his adopted son Tsezar Kats (Vasyl Mykhailovskiy, Jr.). We previously told the story about the rescue of Kats, aged 4, in Babyn Yar.

In the middle of the night, a fragment broke the window glass and flew over the pillows, knocking out a piece of the wall. Thankfully, no one was hurt as the family was in the living room at this late hour. Halyna, the widow of Vasyl Mykhailovskiy, Jr., said: "The main thing is that everyone is alive. We are not planning to leave Kyiv."

The apartment of the Righteous Among the Nations Vasyl Mykhailovskiy, Sr. was damaged during Russian attacks.
Military wreckage of the Russian attack on the family home of the Righteous Among the Nations Vasyl Mykhailovskiy, Sr.

Optimists at heart
"We are not complaining," says the Righteous Among the Nations Vasyl Nazarenko optimistically.

Aged 93, he lives in Kyiv with his wife Lidia. Nazarenko thus describes their current circumstances: "We have everything nearby, all the shops. There is water in the tap periodically. We are not scared of a blackout as there is a war going on. Electricity is turned off and then back on all the time. They turned it off at noon and back on at 6 p.m. There was no water or heating for two days. Gas supply is sporadic. You can live. It's a pity that there is a war; it's a pity that people are dying. During the Second World War, we lived and tried to save people. And now they are trying to kill people. It's too bad."

The Righteous Among the Nations Vasyl Nazerenko and the author.

Nazarenko served in the military in the Far East for many years, so I asked him how long this war would last. "I fear to offer an analysis. Some people can say two words to end the war today. There is nothing to fight for, and no reason for people to die. We have fought for 21 centuries to give people light and civilization. And the war is good for nothing," he said. Nazarenko's family is one of more than 42 families of the Righteous Among the Nations remaining in Ukraine. They are recognized by the state of Israel, the Jewish people, and the whole world as heroes.

Each family refused to leave Ukraine and escape the realities of the war for their own reasons. Some have sons on the frontlines in the Armed Forces; others cannot leave due to old age and poor health, and still others are not willing to leave Ukraine because they love their native land and do not want to go anywhere.

The Righteous Among the Nations Kateryna Sheremeta from Ivano-Frankivsk says that she has decided to stay at home under the protection of the Almighty.

The Righteous Among the Nations Kateryna Sheremeta with lighting, provided by the “Word of the Righteous” project.

Academician Yurii Zaichenko, son of the Righteous Among the Nations Nina Gudkova, believes that the hardest thing during the war is the atmosphere of anticipating trouble and periodic unpredictable bombings of Kyiv. "It is very tiring. It is difficult when the connection disappears, and there is no Internet or mobile connection for several hours. I cannot reach my daughter then. You can survive the rest. The Jewish community and Julia Goldenberg 2U foundation help us and bring food," says Zaichenko. At the beginning of the war, he lived in western Ukraine and Germany but returned because he had a job in Ukraine.

Zaichenko's mother was the director of an orphanage in Kyiv and saved 12 Jewish boys.

Left to right: Julia Goldenberg, head of the “'2U”, Ambassador of Israel to Ukraine, and the Righteous Among the Nations Yurii Zaichenko, son of the Righteous Nina Gudkova. 

In the line of fire
Some of the families of the Righteous Among the Nations live in the frontline territories. For example, the Maleyevs (Sinolitsins) live in the village of Bilozerske in the Donbas. During the Holocaust, Nina Sinolitsina, together with her parents Petro and Tetiana, gave shelter to Hana Rontal and Grigory Schreiber.

Bilozerske is located in the shelling zone, but the family refuses to move because the sons work in the mines. The Sinolitsins were taken to Dnipro in the spring but returned to the Donbas within a few months. Nina Sinolitsina's daughter Halia says: "We hear explosions in Kramatorsk and Pokrovske. There are firing ranges nearby, so when we hear shelling, we don't know where it's coming from and whether it's at the firing range or aimed at us. The sounds of the war can be heard for half a day sometimes."

The Sinolitsins family has now been evacuated to Dnipro.

The Righteous Among the Nations Oleksandr Slobodianyk, born in 1929, was forced to leave his home near the end of his life. He lived in one of the most picturesque places in the country — the village of Stanislav in the Kherson region, near the famous Ukrainian Grand Canyon. The settlement was under Russian occupation from March to November 2022, and his house has been in the combat zone since then.

The Righteous Among the Nations Oleksandr Slobodianyk.

Slobodianyk, aged 93, was supposed to move with his family to the town of Lubny in the Poltava region. Unfortunately, he died in the summer, and the displaced family was left in dire straits. As long as the Righteous Among the Nations are alive, they receive payments from German, American, and Israeli foundations, as well as an allowance from the President of Ukraine. After their death, the payments stop. The Slobodianyk family found itself in trouble as the state aid for displaced persons amounts to UAH 2,000 (about 50 euros) per month but is often delivered several months late. It is often difficult or impossible to find a job, except in large cities such as Kyiv, Lviv, and Dnipro.

According to Yad Vashem, Oleksandr Slobodianyk, together with his parents Oleksiy and Motrona, helped the Gershengorn family during the Second World War.

The Righteous Maria Prutska is still in the occupied territory, and we have not been able to reach her since the spring of 2022.

We have also written about two families of the children of the Righteous Among the Nations that live in Kharkiv and remain at home despite the city being shelled.

Descendants of the Righteous in Ukraine's Armed Forces
Men from the families of the Righteous are willing to defend Ukraine. For example, now the children of the Yarovykh and Daniliantz families are fighting in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Yevhen Petrov, great-grandson of the Righteous Among the Nations Olimpiada Danilianz.

Yevhen Petrov, a great-grandson of the Righteous Olimpiada Daniliantz, serves in Ukraine's Armed Forces. On February 25, 2022, he was already in the army, and tactical gear was purchased for him in April 2022. This was possible thanks to the support of Roza Tapanova, acting director general of the Babyn Yar National Historical and Memorial Reserve, and the efforts of the "Word of the Righteous" project.

The Righteous Among the Nations Olimpiada Danilianz in her youth with her husband.
The Righteous Among the Nations Olimpiada Danilianz with gifts from the “Word of the Righteous” project.

His great-grandmother was the last living Righteous Among the Nations from Odesa until she passed away in 2022 at the age of 100. During the Holocaust, Olimpiada Daniliantz and her father, Georgyi Psaropoulos, saved the Kvitkos, a Jewish family. When the Germans would come to search the house, the young Olimpiada would take little Vika Kvitko in her arms and say: "This is my daughter."

Artem Shevchenko, a grandson of the Righteous Sofia Yarova, volunteered for the National Guard of Ukraine. "Artem is now an assistant grenade launcher in the 5th battalion. He came to the Military Commissariat on February 24, but it was closed. He went to the National Guard the next day," says his mother, Hanna Yarova, a volunteer and member of Ukraine's Union of Artists. She spends almost all her time helping Artem's battalion, collecting money for diesel, clothes, ammunition, new cars, drones, and anything else the National Guard may need.

Left to right: Artem Shevchenko, grandson of the Righteous Among the Nations Sofia Yarova, and Righteous Yarova.

Artem's grandmother and great-grandmother, the Righteous Sofia Yarova (Boyko) and Yefrosinya Boyko, saved seven Jews in German-occupied Kyiv.

Left to right: The author and Hanna Yarova, mother of Artem Shevchenko, grandson of the Righteous Among the Nations Sofia Yarova.

Vlad, a grandson of Stefania Petrushko (Didukh), the last living Righteous Woman of the World from Lviv, served in Ukraine's Armed Forces in 2018–19. The family of Andriy, Anelia, and Stefania Diduch saved four Jewish Peczenik brothers.

Oleksandr, a grandson of the Righteous Oksana Antypchuk (Deineko), is an intensive care physician in one of Kyiv's maternity hospitals. During the first month of the war, he did not leave the hospital, working without days off because many doctors could not get to work. At the time, Kyiv's satellite towns of Irpin, Bucha, Hostomel, and Borodianka were the scene of terrible battles against Russian troops. Doctors could not get to Kyiv, so Oleksandr had to work nonstop.

Left to right: Julia Goldenberg, head of the “'2U”, Ambassador of Israel to Ukraine, and the family of the Righteous Among the Nations Oksana Antypchuk.

His grandmother Oksana Antypchuk (Deineko) now lives in Kyiv. This is what, a joint project of the National Museum of Ukraine's History in the Second World War and the Tkuma Ukrainian Institute for Holocaust Studies, says about her feat:

"The Deineko family lived in the village of Uzhachyn, Novohrad-Volynskyi raion, Zhytomyr region. When the German-Soviet war began, the father of the family, Marko Deineko, was 41 years old. He worked as a railway worker and was officially ineligible for mobilization to the Red Army. His wife Lidia managed the house, took care of the garden, and raised two children. Their daughter Oksana was 13, and their son Ananiy was two years old in 1941. The family lived on the outskirts of the village, with the house located in the middle of a field.

In July 1941, Uzhachyn was occupied by the Nazis, and the "hunt for the Jews" began. Among other doomed villagers was the Keselman family. First, they were sent to the Novohrad-Volynskyi ghetto and then to an execution ground. On the way there, Zina (Zlata) Keselman fled to the forest together with her two-year-old son Naum. They were assisted by a pre-war acquaintance who served as a policeman at the time. Taras Mamanchuk, whom the occupiers appointed assistant to the headman of Uzhachyn, found them in the forest. He hid the mother and her son in his house for a while, and when it became dangerous, he told Marko Deineko about them.

In the evening, the Deinekos held a family meeting and decided to bring Zina to their place. Marko and Lidia knew Zina's father Andriy Keselman well. He had visited them more than once, helping them with their work. The rescuers hoped that no one would find out about their guests because they lived on the outskirts.

The Deinekos hid Zina and Naum Keselman for about a year. Together, they were a poor but friendly household. The boys played together, and the eldest daughter Oksana became Naum's nanny: she took care of him, took him along to the field or forest, and protected him from all kinds of dangers."

Marko and Lidia Deineko and their daughter Oksana Antypchuk are recognized as the Righteous Among the Nations.

How to help the families of the Righteous Among the Nations in Ukraine
Staying on the war-torn territory of Ukraine means enduring certain difficulties in addition to psychological stress and the risks of becoming a victim.

First, there is economic hardship. While men from families in western Ukraine could go to work in Poland, Hungary, etc. in peacetime, the border has been closed for men under 60, with some individual exceptions, since 24 February 2022. For example, the son-in-law of the Righteous Kateryna Kleban in Rava-Ruska is ready to take any job, but there are simply no jobs in the town.

Second, there are shutdowns of the infrastructure when people can go for hours and days without electricity, water, heating, or communications due to bombings. I sometimes cannot reach families in Kyiv and other cities for 2-3 days. Everyone needs generators; everyone would love to have a mobile connection and water when the centralized water supply is shut down.

Maria Glagoleva, daughter of the Righteous Aleksey and Tatiana Glagolevs, says that the hardest thing for her is to be without light. "I can hardly see anything. I would like a shutdown schedule to be followed because the shutdown schedule is not being followed. Sometimes, they turn it off for seven hours and then turn it back on late at night. Why would I need light at night?" She adds: "I pray that the dark forces would deprive those who are leading this war. They are possessed by some dark forces if they want to destroy an entire nation like this."

All the families of the Righteous are grateful for support in terms of foodstuffs.

Such organizations as our "Word of the Righteous" project aim to support the families of the Righteous even after his/her death when most of the support from foundations stops. The title is often awarded posthumously, and then the family receives only a diploma and a medal from Yad Vashem. We hope to make up for it.

The Righteous Among the Nations, the Righteous of Ukraine, and the Children of the Righteous (those born during the Second World War), however, are supported by Julia Goldenberg's 2U charitable foundation.

"The most terrible thing is the lack of communication when you can't understand what situation a person is in, especially if it is an elderly person," says Julia. She helps Kyiv-based families of the Righteous and Jews by providing lunches. Her kitchen feeds 50 people twice a week. Food kits with all necessary products are distributed to 2,500-3,000 people per month. Aid is provided to elderly Jews, the Righteous Among the Nations, the Righteous of Ukraine and their children, and internally displaced persons.

"My entire kitchen is powered by electricity, but the generator I bought can output only 10 kW, while I need 40 kW. A new powerful generator would help us a lot. A Starlink would also be good to have," says Julia. With the beginning of the bombing of Kyiv's infrastructure, she opened her office to neighbors, turning it into another Point of Invincibility where you can charge your gadget, drink coffee, and get warm.

In the autumn of 2022, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine (Chabad) launched large-scale relief efforts for Ukrainian Jews. They provide more than 50,000 Jewish families throughout Ukraine with humanitarian aid, including food and household goods. The federation also supports over 40 families of the Righteous and their children in different regions of the country, including frontline cities.

"It is important for us to support the Righteous Among the Nations and their families. During the years of the Shoah, they risked everything to save the Jews. It's good that we can somehow help these good people in today's wartime," says the federation's director Alina Teplytska.

Other Jewish organizations, such as the Jus and Hesed charitable foundations, the Babyn Yar foundation, and others, also provide aid on a case-by-case basis.

Our "Word of the Righteous" project maintains contact with more than 40 families of the Righteous Among the Nations and their children. We top up their mobile phones every month and provide financial support and food if necessary. We send them greetings and gifts for the holidays. As Ukrainian cities began to experience blackouts, we gave these families battery-powered garlands, which help during blackouts and create a bright mood in the heart. We receive assistance from Ukrainian bankers and businesspeople who have known me as a financial journalist and analyst for more than a decade. The benefactors include Roman Shpek, Gennadiy Khelemskyy and Yevheniia Khelemska, Dmytro Sholomko, Inna Tiutiun, Denys Chernyshov, Michael Komissarouk, Marina Avdieieva, and others.

We also find people who can provide a lot of direct aid to the families. Communications expert Yurii Pavlov supports the families of the Righteous Valentyna Poloz and Larysa Shulezhko, a daughter of the Righteous Oleksandra Shulezhko. The Credit Dnipro bank looks after the family of Oleksandr Slobodianyk mentioned above. The Federation of Jewish Communities of Ukraine purchased an oxygen concentrator for the Righteous Valentyna Poloz.

When the Righteous Olena Malova (Zavadska) was sick, the acting director of the acting director of the National Historical Memorial Preserve Babyn Yar Rosa Tapanova helped find a suitable hospital bed for her and arranged to have it lifted to a high floor. She bought a glucometer for the Righteous Among the Nations Bohdan Karpyshyn.

Karpyshyn, a resident of Husiatyn, Ternopil region, is 93, and his wife is 85. He can't see or read because of a cataract. "I'm thinking about how to survive the winter rather than the war because electricity is turned off here. We were given a heater as a gift. However, there is no electricity: it can be turned off for 5 or 24 hours. We are very grateful for your care and everything. I want people to have peace in the state because there are so many millions of people, and they are suffering badly from this adversity."

Some family members of the Righteous need both jobs and support. All caring individuals can help these wonderful families by contacting us.

Marharyta Ormotsadze
Marharyta Ormotsadze is a co-founder/producer of the Word of the Righteous project, which tells about the valor of Ukrainians who saved Jews throughout Ukraine during the Holocaust.

All photos: Word of the Righteous and personal archives of the Righteous.

Translated from the Ukrainian by V. Starko