Elza Gorbanov fled from the Nazis as a young girl living in Donetsk, Ukraine. After the war she and her family returned home, and that is where Elza was recently receiving aid from the Claims Conference, through Hesed Tsdaka. But last year Elza had to flee her home a second time when the conflict in Ukraine became too dangerous for her to stay. Elza now lives in Edmonton, Canada, and again the Claims Conference is helping her.
In October 1941, 6-year-old Elza and her family fled from Donetsk towards Almaty, Kazakhstan. After two months on the journey, the little girl was so ill that the family got off the train in a tiny village, where there were no medical services. Elza’s mother found work in the community association for the local Soviet agricultural community, which was growing rice. Little Elza and her mother knit socks for the Soviet Army, which they exchanged for bread. Her father, wounded fighting in the Soviet army, was sent home to recuperate. Elza spent her days gathering sticks to make a fire to cook the rice.
The family lived in this village, starving, for two years. When Donetsk was liberated in September 1943, Elza’s family returned home. When they arrived, they found their home ransacked, and they were left with nothing. The family struggled to create a new life for themselves in Donetsk, and there Elza stayed, getting married and having children. In 1998, Elza and her husband started to receive food packages funded by the Claims Conference. Her son immigrated to Canada more than a decade ago.
Elza said she never thought she would leave Donetsk, where her husband and her parents are buried. But in 2014, fighting between the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russian forces moved too close to her neighborhood, and Elza felt unsafe. “Someone from Hesed helped me to put paper on my windows” so they wouldn’t shatter, she recalled. In July 2014, Elza fled for her safety, taking only a purse with her identification documents. She ended up in Kharkov, where Hesed Shaare Tikva gave her a blanket and a monthly stipend for refugees.
Her son in Canada begged her to leave Ukraine and in March 2015, she did. She now lives with him in an apartment in Edmonton, furnished by friends in the local Jewish community. Luckily, a friend directed her to Jewish Family Service of Edmonton (JFSE).
In Ukraine, Elza was receiving meals-on-wheels and food vouchers from Hesed Tsdaka, funded by the Claims Conference. She also had applied for the Hardship Fund. Now, in Edmonton, where she has no possible current means of supporting herself, Elza receives homecare and housekeeping, case management and grocery-store gift cards from JFSE. Because Elza does not speak English, her homecare aide accompanies her to the grocery store to buy food. At this time Elza receives no social services from Canada, but JFSE and her son are in the process of applying for a special humanitarian visa for her.
But until then, her only source of help is Jewish Family Service and the Claims Conference. “I am so happy and thankful for the services I receive,” Elza says.