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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2017 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

March 13, 2015  RSS feed
Federation

Text: T T T

Mark's Mensches

Viktoria Zalesov

We have so much to be thankful for. Sure we all face our share of challenges and some times are tougher than others but all in all we’re very fortunate to be Jews living in America.

This point is driven home solidly when we hear stories about what our fellow Jews are facing in other places around the world like Israel, France, Argentina, and Ukraine.

The board of directors of the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties recently invited a Jewish woman of Ukrainian descent, whose father still lives in Ukraine, to come speak and share with us some of the challenges her father and other Ukrainian Jews are enduring. This woman’s name is Viktoria Zalesov and she’s our latest well-deserving addition to Mark’s Mensches.

At a time in ones’ lives when most people are thinking about themselves – their education, their career, their marriage – Viktoria Zalesov has been busy thinking of others. Specifically, others in war-torn Ukraine, where she lived until she was 11 before moving to Israel.

After returning to Ukraine in 2006, Viktoria moved to the United States just three years ago to be with her husband who has lived in the Tampa Bay area for the last 20 years. He too grew up in the Ukraine and he and Viktoria lived in the same condominium building growing up. Within the few years that she has lived here, Viktoria has completed her LL.M degree in International Law at Stetson Law School and began working with lawyers specializing in this field.

She has also seen firsthand the damage that has occurred from war in her hometown of Donetsk, Ukraine. Within the last six months, Donetsk has turned from a city that thrived in spite of dealing with poverty issues, to a war-torn community that most residents are trying to escape.

“Donetsk is a great city. People there used to live happy, normal lives. At the onset of the conflict, most people were caught completely off-guard by the rapidly declining geopolitical situation. There was no way for them to prepare. Today, they don’t have any resources,” explains Viktoria. “I don’t know how they can survive. I feel that I need to do something.”

With this in mind, Viktoria has made it her mission to raise funds for those still living in Donetsk.

“I went to the Federation and said I needed help. We need money, we need to do something.”

The Jewish community quickly rose to her call for help and has assisted Viktoria in raising awareness.

“The community has done a great job. The JCC & Federation in Hillsborough and the Pinellas & Pasco Federation have donated money and provided support to help get the word out.”

Viktoria works with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which works with Hesed, an organization in the Ukraine that affiliates with the JDC to help Jews in the Ukraine. She feels the need to move quickly because the destruction is so recent in the area, there is still opportunity to rebuild.

“People ask all the time why the people of Donetsk don’t just leave. But a lot of people stay because they don’t have a choice. They didn’t have any chance to leave. It’s very difficult to uproot the entire family and leave when there are no savings; they only have enough money to barely live day to day.

This isn’t the first time Viktoria has worked to serve others. While living in Ukraine she started a nonprofit called Heart to Heart. She affiliated with a local synagogue and created this organization to help families of children with special needs. Heart to Heart raised money, provided food and helped children see physicians that could help with their unique needs.

“I realized a lot of families need help. I realized I can help with my knowledge, my personal resources and my friends. Children are our future.”

Ultimately, Viktoria has even bigger plans. Her goal is to start a nonprofit and build a refugee camp for those in Donetsk who need resources such as money, living quarters, food, and more. However, she doesn’t see this as a refugee camp in the traditional sense. Instead, she sees it as a new opportunity for new life. In essence, this will be someplace that does more than provide refuge; this would be a place that helps people move forward in rebuilding their futures.

In the meantime, Viktoria will continue meeting with members of the Jewish community and sharing her story.

“I do this because of my faith. The philosophy of Judaism that I hold very dear, teaches us to be compassionate to the needs of others and to do as much as possible, whether it be to comfort someone or ease suffering. My father always helped local communities. He is still in Donetsk, volunteering to help. I felt it was my duty to help.”

The Federation is currently accepting gifts to be earmarked for Ukrainian assistance and those gifts are eligible for matching for a limited period of time. You can make your donation at www.jewishpinellas.org by clicking on the Israel & Overseas tab. The Federation will absorb all administration expenses so that 100% of all funds collected will go directly to the cause. If you would like to get personally involved in Viktoria’s cause and help those trying to rebuild in Donetsk, please contact ezra770international@gmail.com.

Know a mensch? Contact marksegel@jewishpinellas.org or call the Federation office, (727) 530-3223.


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