My cousin in Odessa, and how she has been helped by World Jewish Relief

Thankfully, Rosa has managed to get a Eurostar train to London where she will meet with her cousin Madeleine. (Wikipedia)
Thankfully, Rosa has managed to get a Eurostar train to London where she will meet with her cousin Madeleine. (Wikipedia)

My connection to World Jewish Relief, and to Ukraine, has a long history. My mother was born in Wapniarka and my father’s parents were from Odessa.

I first got involved with World Jewish Relief more than 40 years ago. I used to go to New York and purchase clothing, have it shipped to London where a team of volunteers would pack everything into parcels and send them onto the Soviet Union for the Jewish community who were living in poverty there.

On one visit with World Jewish Relief, my husband and I located some of my extended family in Kyiv and met up with them. When we arrived, they were wearing some of the clothes we had sent to the region through World Jewish Relief!

One of them had a photograph of my Bubba holding my son as a baby, so I knew they were family. They subsequently decided to leave the Soviet Union, where they were living in poor conditions. We helped to organise their journey to New York, via a refugee camp in Italy.

Many years later, we found out, via a ‘missing relatives’ advert in the Jewish Chronicle, that we had family still in Odessa that we didn’t know about. We made contact, and my cousin and I travelled to the meet them and hosted a Friday night dinner where over 40 relatives showed up!

This was the first time I met my cousin Rosa*. Rosa has just spent shabbat in Paris, but the past weeks, since Russia invaded Ukraine and destroyed her life, have been unimaginably traumatic and her journey to safety is not over yet.

Rosa is 66, single, and since her parents died has been completely on her own. She suffers with poor health. When the invasion began, she was very, very frightened. She had nowhere to shelter. She had to lie on her bathroom floor when the sirens were going off because that was the safest place for her. She was alone. She collapsed numerous times – we have no doubt that the trauma she experienced has compounded her health condition.

I was so concerned for Rosa that I reached out directly to World Jewish Relief’s Chief Executive Paul Anticoni and told him her story. The next day, staff from their partner, Hesed Shaare Tzion were with her, in her home, providing food and companionship, helping her to feel less alone.

Rosa didn’t want to leave Odessa. It is her home. Her parents are buried there, and she wanted to continue looking after their graves. It took several days for her to admit that it was all too much for her and that she was ready to leave.

Once again, I contacted Paul. World Jewish Relief arranged for her to leave the country by bus. Two days later she crossed the border into Romania. Local volunteers met her and helped her to organise a flight to Paris where she is now, with my cousin’s daughter-in-law’s extended family. They have taken her in until we can get her to the UK.

From what I understand, the UK visa application process is complicated. I hope the fact Rosa has had previous British visas to visit the country, and has references and sponsorship from the family, will help her to gain entry. So many of our wider family have reached out and offered to support her here.

If she does come to the UK, I don’t know how long it will be for. Will it be indefinite? Will she want to go back again? Will she have anything to go back to? At this point we just don’t know.

Before the invasion, Rosa was working for the university in Odsesa. Her English is good, and she is computer literate. She will be an asset here in the UK.  Please G-D with World Jewish Relief’s help she will be able to start working, become independent and able to thrive again.

If she makes it to the UK, it will be such a relief. I hope that before not too long, Rosa will be able to be with her family here and we will be so very glad to see her.

*Not her real name.

….update: Since this article was written, my cousin Rosa managed to get on the Eurostar to London and I am planning to meet her on Friday, 17 March.


About the Author
Madeleine Cope-Thompson has been involved with World Jewish Relief in a voluntary capacity for more than 40 years. She has 4 children and 8 grandchildren, and her family has a strong commitment to helping others.