It’s late summer in the sleepy town of Oleksandrovka. The sun is shining and the Ukrainian countryside is alive with the sounds of summer. Sunflowers are in full bloom. The sky is a royal blue. Children are playing and farmers are going about their business.
Although there’s a conflict raging not far from here, you wouldn’t know it. The chaos and carnage that has besieged Donetsk and Lugansk seems a world away.
Kateryna Kamarevtseva is 43 years old. She’s already a grandmother of two gorgeous girls – one is two years old and the other is about to turn one. She lives here in Oleksandrovka with her husband.
Kateryna is a postman – or should that be postwoman? – and when she isn’t busy delivering letters in the town she tends her garden. She plants flowers in the shape of a Magen David. She looks after her goats which she keeps for milk and cheese.
Kateryna is standing in her garden, enjoying the warm weather. She picks up one of her goats. Suddenly there’s a boom. The countryside shudders. In what feels like an eternity but is probably just a few seconds, bullets start spraying. One hits Kateryna. Or it would have done, if it wasn’t for her goat. The goat is hit square in the neck and dies. Kateryna somehow survives.
She hides with her family in the basement. It’s dark and humid. She hides for six months, coming up for air only when the tanks stop firing. One evening, a rocket hits her neighbour’s house. Kateryna makes a decision. They’re leaving Oleksandrovka.
Her husband refuses. He wants to stay and guard the house. What would you do? Kateryna can’t stay any more. She’s too worried about her daughter and grandchildren. They grab what they can carry and flee. They somehow make it to Donetsk. Rockets fly overhead. They escape to Zaporozhye, 140 miles away.
Kateryna needs work to support her family. But Zaporozhye doesn’t need more postmen. Or postwomen. She hears about World Jewish Relief’s work programme, set up to get people jobs and break the cycle of poverty forever.
Kateryna has always dreamed of being a professional hairdresser. She enrols on the course. There she meets others who’ve had to flee their homes. She receives psychological support as well as business advice.
The course goes well. She starts training. The course will connect her with a private hair studio, enabling her to practice. She’ll still need to make ends meet.
Her husband remains in Oleksandrovka. She misses him but knows she can’t go back. Zaporozhye is her home now.
It’s nearly Passover. The pascal lamb marks the Children of Israel’s journey from slavery to freedom. Perhaps Kateryna’s goat will come to symbolise her own journey from living under siege to the relative safety of Zaporozhye.
I don’t know if this story will have a happy ending. But it’s got a really good chance thanks to you and your support for World Jewish Relief.
Have a wonderful seder night and Chag sameach.