- Ukraine Response
- Stories & Testimonials
“Everyone I met was traumatized. When children were given art supplies, they drew tanks, machine guns, rockets. And homes, right alongside,” says Anna Lushtak, a longtime friend of Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) and member of our Emigre Committee, who recently spent two weeks volunteering in Poland with Ukrainian refugees.
For Anna, who emigrated to the US from the former Soviet Union decades ago and received resettlement assistance from JFCS, the plight of the refugees felt deeply personal. Describing what motivated her to share her time and skills, Anna says, “I was watching what was going on in desperation. I knew I could make at least a small difference.”
Prior to her trip, Anna volunteered from home, translating into English stories that had been recorded at the Polish-Ukrainian border. While in Poland, the Marin resident volunteered at a refugee center near Warsaw operated by the Joint Distribution Committee, one of JFCS’ humanitarian aid partners.
For refugees, centers provide a secure place to rest, connect with resources and emotional support, and consider their next steps. With her fluency in Russian, training in psychology, and characteristic empathy and warmth, Anna organized classes, outings, and therapeutic art activities for children and adults; made the center more welcoming and comfortable; and engaged adults in volunteering and sharing knowledge, such as conversational English and Polish language skills, with each other. “We wanted to offer programs to help them through their trauma a little bit so they can feel here and now,” says Anna.
Anna was reminded of her own experience as a refugee—and how JFCS helped her find her way and build a community in the United States. She could relate to the women’s feelings of overwhelm as they struggled to process the upending of their lives and cope with uncertainty. The pain of grief and loss coincided with the relief of being out of danger. All were worried about the safety of partners or loved ones still in Ukraine.
“There were people at the center who spent twenty-seven days in the basement with their child. They saw their neighbors being killed out in the street,” says Anna. “An almost three-year-old would ask his mom every night, ‘Are we going to the basement?’”
Anna recalls that the children, mothers, and grandmothers—both Jewish and non-Jewish—found comfort in coming together to bake challah and observe Shabbat. Members of the local Jewish community would attend, too. During these gatherings, Anna noticed that the refugees would pause monitoring news from home and connect with the warmth of community and tradition. These moments were a crucial respite.
Now back in the Bay Area, the stories of these women and children and all that she witnessed drive Anna to continue to donate, volunteer, advocate, and speak out to help Ukrainian refugees.
Prominently displayed in her home is a birthday card. When the children surprised her with the handmade card, she anticipated the page would be filled with more drawings of destruction, more signs of their trauma. Instead, she found sweetness: her portrait surrounded by hearts, balloons, cakes, and Ukrainian flags. This card reminds Anna of the urgency of ensuring refugees receive psychological support as quickly as possible so they can heal from trauma and regain their hope for the future.
Through the JFCS Emergency Fund for Ukraine Relief, children and families are receiving essential services and support in Ukraine and neighboring countries.