CHERKASSY, Ukraine (Aug. 18)
Until the Beitenu program for at-risk children opened its doors some seven months ago, 14-year-old Marina Lvovitch hadn’t been outside in years. Now, a Hesed van shows up several times a week to shuttle Lvovitch, who has cerebral palsy and is unable to speak properly or control her limbs, to Beitenu’s Odessa facility.
There, she attends art therapy classes and writes poetry, while back at home her mother, Larissa, gets some much-needed rest.
Even in cities where the Beitenu children’s program exists, Hesed workers must still bring aid to disabled children who are unable to leave their homes.
When Marina was small, Larissa could carry her up and down the stairs to their fourth-floor apartment. But Marina is now too heavy for her mother’s arms.
When she was born, Marina’s father took one look at the crippled infant and disappeared, says Larissa, who is unable to work because she must care for Marina around th! e clock.
They live in one small room in a three-bedroom apartment they share with Marina’s grandmother, aunt and cousins. They sleep in the same bed, so Larissa can constantly adjust her daughter’s limbs throughout the night to ward off cramping.
When Marina takes a bath, Larissa must sit in the tub with her to help her sit up; the girl’s grandmother helps her lift Marina out of the tub when they are finished.
Marina has been a Hesed client since 1998, but until Beitenu opened in Cherkassy earlier this year, Hesed was only able to offer her a monthly food package. That’s what she and her mother lived on, in addition to the Ukrainian state pension for disabled children, about $12 a month.
A tutor comes from the public school three times a week to teach her basic subjects, including English.
Marina has a pudgy face, sparkling eyes, and a wicked sense of humor. Visitors who are lulled into thinking her disability has affected her mind are quickly brought in! to line with a few sharp comments from the girl, delivered in perfect, softly accented English.
“Would you like to hear one of my poems?” she asks, knowing the answer in advance. “It’s called ‘Soul in Pain.’ “
As her eyes dart uncontrollably around the room, and her mother tries to calm her twitching arms, Marina smiles and recites, in Russian: “It’s like a piece of crystal/Although it has no voice, the soul’s beauty is wondrous./ My words may seem naive, and you might laugh at my twisted face/ But turn around and look, somewhere near you is my soul, like a crystal.”
This article is a sidebar to a piece by Sue Fishkoff on at-risk kids in Ukraine. It is part of a series of pieces on Jewish life in the former Soviet Union. This series was made possible, in part, by support from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.