UPDATE: Since this story was first shared with MB Foundation, Daria’s husband has left the village and is safely with his family in Zaporozhye, where they are living at a hostel. Because he has not yet found a job, the family continues to receive food from the refugee center at Reimer Center. Without this assistance the family doesn’t know how they’d survive.
Daria’s mother and grandmother remain in the village, where the situation is very hard. The people are scared and unsure of what to do. Russians threaten to kill the villagers if they don’t plant crops in the vast fields in and around the village. But people can’t plant because the Russians have destroyed all the equipment and taken the grain.
The volunteers that helped Daria to evacuate are now safe. One of them spent six days in “the hands of Russians.” He was tortured and returned very thin, with bruises all over his body. He was not given any food, just water and the Russians threatened to kill him if he helped more people.
When Daria and her three children left their home in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region, Daria’s husband, mother and grandmother, who is bedridden and sick, stayed behind. Since leaving, Daria has limited communication with them—usually just enough to find out if they are still alive. The volunteers from the village of Polohy who evacuated the family were taken by the Russians soon after the evacuation and no one knows where they are.
Daria left her home for the sake of the couple’s children but now has no way to provide for them; finding work is not an option. iCare food boxes provided by local Mennonite Brethren are her only source for provision.
Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is bringing death, pain, suffering, trauma and destruction to the Ukrainian people. It is also displacing millions of people like Daria as well as members of the 20 churches in the Association of Mennonite Brethren Churches of Ukraine (AMBCU).
“This financial support united everyone, and our AMBCU team got a second wind.”
The church buildings still stand, and reports indicate no lives have been lost. But nothing else remains as it was before the February 24 invasion.
Approximately 20 to 30 percent of the people belonging to the AMBCU churches remain in their homes, another 20 percent fled the country and the rest moved to safety in other parts of Ukraine, mainly in the west.
Roughly one third of AMBCU churches are in territory under Russian occupation. They are isolated and hold services in homes. AMBCU tries to help these churches by delivering food, but only in small amounts since it is sometimes confiscated at Russian checkpoints.
Many pastors have become missionaries. After taking their churches to safety, they have started new ministries serving the refugees in other locations. These new ministries require financial support, and the Ukraine MB Church Relief Fund, established by MB Foundation, is supporting these efforts.
“It’s a huge support for pastors and ministers who don’t have any income as they left the area, lost everything and have to start everything from scratch,” says MB pastor Sergei Panasovich, who goes to the frontlines to evacuate people and bring supplies. “This financial support united everyone, and our AMBCU team got a second wind.”
The churches in Ukrainian territories have formed 10 refugee assistance centers that serve the refugees, providing basic aid and meeting their spiritual needs. Three of these centers are now close to the front lines.
A team of 30 people work from a center in Zaporizhzhia, spending long hours feeding refugees, distributing iCare food packages and providing clothes. They hold short services to encourage people, praying for them, sharing the gospel and singing. The team listens to the refugees’ stories, feels their pain and cries together. Some team members even sleep at the center when they are not able to leave before the curfew.
Twenty Mennonite Brethren work in Mukachevo, in western Ukraine. They bring in or purchase humanitarian aid. They also send iCare food packages, clothes, hygiene items and other relief aid supplies to the frontlines. Teams take them to destroyed villages and towns, distributing supplies to people in need. On their way back, they bring people from dangerous areas who want to evacuate. Team members help them get to the border and find churches in Europe that can receive the refugees.
“We would have never been able to do this work without the support of our friends at MB Foundation,” says Roman Rakhuba, chair of AMBCU. “MB Foundation has provided the biggest support to the AMBCU. The money they give us is literally saving lives.”
As of early June, $224,500 of the $327,500 received for the Ukraine MB Church Relief Fund has been distributed to AMBCU. The funds have been used in three ways:
Funds support MB leaders and their teams. Each of the eight leaders receives an equal part; then the team decides how they will use the money. Most often the funds are used for transportation expenses, evacuating people, renting warehouse space, food, and other supplies needed for life and ministry.
Funds have purchased three vans. The vehicles are used to take iCare food packages and humanitarian aid from Mukachevo to the Kharkiv and Donetsk region. On the return trip, the vans transport people who want to evacuate from these dangerous areas to western Ukraine or the border.
Funds are used to purchase food for iCare packages. The food and energy crises are worsening, and food is in demand as never before. People are running out of their stored food. The government doesn’t have food to distribute, so the Ukrainians must rely on humanitarian aid. Ukrainian leaders say everyone asks for food—refugee centers, organizations, churches that serve people and even governmental institutions. Food is a number one necessity.
Residents of Kamyanske have received iCare packages. Until recently, places like Kamyanske were thriving. Farms provided people with jobs and stores with fresh produce. Now the village is on the front lines. Constant shelling has destroyed the infrastructure. Farmers can’t work. Their agricultural equipment is ruined, the green houses are damaged and fields are “planted” with missiles instead of seeds.
Anna, 92, grew up in this village and worked as a milk lady all her life.
“As long as I can remember, we always had cows,” she says, wiping tears. “My mom told me that our cow, Zor’ka, saved my life during the famine. During the famine of 1932-1933, many people of the village died of starvation… I would have loved to have a cow even now, but I don’t have the strength to look after it anymore.”
Anna says it is hard for her to live through another war. When offered the chance to evacuate, she says, “I could go to a safer place, but why? I am an old lady. This is where I was born. This is where I will die.”
Anna gratefully received an iCare package. When she saw the New Testament, tears ran down her face.
“The communists taught us that there was no God,” she said. “But he does exist. He sent you to me so that this old lady would live a little longer.”
She was very happy when the team that visited her prayed for her.
“Each resident of this village has their own sad story,” says one leader. “And while there are those who need our help, we’ll continue helping them, sharing with them about God’s mercy, his saving love and care about each one of them.”
Visit www.mbfoundation.com/ukrainerelief to support AMBCU’s ministry.
The iCare food kits distributed by Ukrainian Mennonite Brethren are part of Mission Eurasia’s “I Care” Refugee Assistance Program that provides for the most urgent physical and spiritual needs of refugees displaced by war, regional conflict and other disasters in the countries of Eurasia.