Evgeniia Riabaia was born in 1919 as Sheindl Riabaia in the town of Rîbniţa (Rybnitsa), north of Odessa, in what, in 1924, became the Moldavian Autonomous Republic. Since her paternal grandfather was a rabbi, Sheindele's elder sisters, who studied at a medical institute in Odessa, were under the permanent threat of expulsion from the institute. To avoid that outcome, their father Samuil joined a Jewish agricultural colony situated far from Rîbniţa. Despite his good education, he started working at the colony as a shepherd. Later he was promoted to the position of bookkeeper. The family spoke Yiddish at home and the girl graduated from a seven-year Yiddish school and started a nursing school.
Prior to the Soviet-German war, Evgeniia Riabaia settled in Dnepropetrovsk (now Dnipro, Ukraine), where she studied at the local medical institute. With the beginning of the Soviet-German war, she had to flee eastward. She settled in Sverdlovsk (now Iekaterinburg, Russia), where she graduated from a medical institute as a surgeon in 1942 and was then drafted into the Red Army. Then she was attached to the medical battalion (medsanbat) of the 183rd Infantry Division. With this division, she took part in the Kursk Salient operation in 1943 and then took part in the liberation of Kharkov. She also fought elsewhere in Ukraine and then in Poland.
Riabaia recalls the war and, specifically, her work as a military surgeon as a permanent nightmare. During her two years on the frontlines, she served with a medical battalion close to the frontline, rather than in a military hospital in the rear. This meant that sometimes she had to stand at an operating table using a scalpel for twenty hours – with only four hours to sleep, all while under enemy shelling. There was also the danger of enemy encirclement, which is what happened to her medsanbat near the city of Katowice in Poland. To this day Yevgeniya recalls her fear of being captured and identified as a Jew.
Riabaia finished her military career in Moravská Ostrava (Mährisch Ostrau), Czechoslovakia, where she was seriously injured by an enemy bomb in April 1945. While in a military hospital, Riabaia was awarded the Order of the Red Star. Earlier, in 1943, she had received the Medal for Courage.
After a half a year stay in hospital, still on crutches, Evgeniia Riabaia, settled in Dneprodzerzhinsk (a town close to Dnepropetrovsk), where she headed a department at a local hospital. After her injury, she could no longer work as a surgeon. She specialized in cardiology and later, headed the cardiology department of the hospital. In the late 1980s (or, perhaps, in the early 1990s) she emigrated from the USSR. At present (2016) 97 years old, Evgeniia Riabaia lives in Miami.