When rockets began to rain down onto Kharkiv, Ukraine, Pavel* and a group from his church stepped outside, raised their hands and prayed. They turned in faith to God, seeking the protection of a seniors’ home called House of Hope in a village close to Kharkiv, where Pavel has been providing relief for people fleeing the conflict. After more than a month of destruction in Kharkiv and the surrounding area, House of Hope is still standing.
Still standing, too, is Pavel’s hope. He is the leader of Kharkiv Independent ECB Churches (KECB), an MCC partner in Ukraine which works to support the elderly, the sick and the poor. KECB is helping the most vulnerable escape the danger of the conflict by moving them to smaller villages around Kharkiv that have been less directly targeted.
Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second-largest city and has been the site of some of the worst destruction by Russian military forces. Much of the city that once was home to 1.4 million people has been reduced to unlivable rubble. Some 80 percent of the population has fled the city and the area around it. While many have escaped to neighboring countries seeking refuge, many Ukrainians are unable to flee the death and destruction, particularly those who are disabled, sick or very old.
KECB is based out of a village* near Kharkiv that is home to around 4,300 people. In addition to transporting people to safety, KECB is buying and making food and, more importantly, says Pavel, purchasing much-needed medicine.
“We have 47 people with epilepsy in this district and the authorities came to us with a request to help with medicine for these people,” Pavel says. “There are also 57 with diabetes, 54 with cancer, 27 including some children with asthma and 63 with thyroid conditions. We need very special medicine, not just what you buy when you have a cold.”
Through the outpouring of support from MCC donors across the world, KECB has received support to continue this life-saving work.
“For the people who are sick or disabled, it’s very hard for them,” Pavel says. “We’ve taken people out of places that the battle lines are very close to, like Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. Just yesterday, some brothers [from the church] set up a toilet so it could be adapted for those who can’t move around on their own.”
For many of the people KECB is helping, physical needs are only one component of caring for them.
“There was an 84-year-old woman who was brought to us from the hospital,” Pavel says. “She did not see all the destruction and can’t fully realize and believe that all this is actually happening. She needs to talk about it all the time. She has a house, which is now partially destroyed. She lives in the area of constant shelling, and it is not possible to return there now.”
KECB’s small fleet of vehicles travels to several villages in the area around Kharkiv every day, looking for anyone left behind who needs help. Through their base at House of Hope and the Christian school next door, they also prepare meals and food packages for as many people as possible, baking bread multiple times a day. Pavel says once the relief supplies have been distributed, the buckets that MCC relief kits are packaged in make great vessels for proofing large batches of dough.
“If we can’t use all the bread in one day, we cut it and dry it so it can be eaten tomorrow or in the food packages,” he says, holding up a five-gallon pail filled to the top with dried cubes of bread. “We’ve distributed more than 11,000 food packages so far.”
*Last names and specific locations are not used for security purposes.
Mennonite Central Committee is a global, nonprofit organization that strives to share God’s love and compassion for all through relief, development and peace. MCC is committed to relationships with their local partners and churches. As an Anabaptist organization, they strive to make peace a part of everything they do.