Turning Despair into Hope

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A Life of Fighting to Survive

Irina Oja

Irina remembers her childhood as a time of cold and hunger – it was never warm enough and there was never enough to eat...

Irina, now 72, was born in Irkustsk, Siberia, where her family fled to escape the Nazi armies who had invaded their hometown of Kiev, Ukraine. In Siberia, Irina’s mother worked in a hospital, helping save the lives of wounded soldiers. The work was very demanding, and Irina was often left alone with her older brother.

Irina remembers her childhood as a time of cold and hunger – it was never warm enough and there was never enough to eat.

After the war, the family returned to Kiev, where Irina, hoping to follow in her mother’s footsteps, applied to study medicine at a local university. Although her grades were perfect, Irina was rejected because she was Jewish. Instead of studying medicine, she found a school where she could study biology.

While in school, Irina met her future husband and followed him to Tallinn, in the former Soviet Union, where she lives today. Unfortunately, although Irina worked for 35 years as scientist in a bread factory, poverty and hunger are as much a part of Irina’s life today as they were when she was a child.

Her husband passed away years ago, leaving her to raise their daughter on her own, struggling to survive on a single salary. Conditions did not improve with time, and today over half of Irina’s meager pension goes to paying the utility bills in her small apartment.

Making matters worse, as she got older, Irina developed a blood illness, but she cannot afford the food she needs to stay healthy. She cannot even cook for herself, as she gets weak and dizzy when she stands for too long.

Thankfully, Irina has IFCJ Canada. Her Fellowship-supported homecare worker cooks for her, using meat and fresh fruit and vegetables purchased with Irina’s Fellowship food card. The vitamins and protein are crucial to Irina’s survival.

Thanks to your generous donations, Irina also receives subsidized medicine and help meeting her heating bills in the winter. “Without The Fellowship’s support, it would be impossible for me to survive,” says Irina. “In addition to material help, I feel like they have become my family. They really care about me.”

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Irina remembers her childhood as a time of cold and hunger – it was never warm enough and there was never enough to eat...