Hope amid tears in Eastern Ukraine
Hope amid tears in Eastern Ukraine
Two minivans, white and yellow, drive through the forest towards the Ukrainian Baptist retreat centre. It is dark, and it is quiet. During the 2-hour drive we see only a couple of cars passing us on the narrow road. We are warmly welcomed in a newly renovated retreat centre where we find our beds for the night. Only in the morning do we find out that some of the paths we crossed last night are still heavy with tank tracks.
We are in East Ukraine, a few kilometres from the border of the temporarily occupied territory. With the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) and the European Baptist Federation (EBF) delegations we are visiting local churches and a pastors’ conference in the Donbas area to hear their stories and support their work in this difficult time. The Baptist retreat centre where we spent the night had before us hosted about sixty internally displaced persons (IDPs) escaping the conflict zone.
We drive around the Donbas region, and see and feel the wounds of Ukraine. Destroyed bridges, houses with broken windows and holes in the walls, tears in the eyes of elderly ladies. In Kamenka, where we meet some of the village people, the gathered ladies ask: “Why do they bomb us, our houses and gardens? When do they stop?” Even a couple of nights ago the shooting had kept the ladies awake.
Yet in the middle of this destruction we see and hear the stories of hope. With the help of EBF member bodies and mission partners about 200 000 people have received food packages, coal for heating, ceramic heaters and other necessary items, among others many families in Kamenka. “The greatest help we have received comes from the Baptist churches,” tell the people of this village. Their handshakes are warm, and their hugs are strong.
Pastor Vasilii who coordinates the humanitarian projects in this region, takes us around and shows the work the churches are doing. In Mirnograd, the City of Peace if translated into English, he has established a bakery which gives work for 11 people, and bakes 700 bread loves a day. Some of these are given out for free, some sold at a production price to those who can pay a little. God’s love and churches’ prayers are baked into these loaves which become the Bread of Life for many people.
When we drive from village to village, we have to cross several check points. Most cars are stopped and checked at these points. Our two minivans pass usually without stopping. Igor Bandura, the Vice-President of the Ukrainian Baptist Union explains: “Pastor Vasilii is so well known in this region. All those manning check points know that he is doing an excellent work helping the local people, so we get through quickly and without checks thanks to his good deeds.”
Life in this part of Ukraine is hard. The number of IDPs who have fled the temporarily occupied zone is around 1,7 million people. The biggest number resides in Donbas area. Economy is badly affected, and it is hard for people to find jobs. A lady who came to collect a food package from the church in Mirnograd stopped to talk with me. “When will all this stop? I want to go back home,” she said with tears in her eyes.
While this tragedy continues, the Baptist churches in East Ukraine are committed to help those badly affected by the war. Yet they can do it only with the help of fellow Christians around the world who support their work financially and with their prayers. Join us so that even in this wounded country people would find hope for themselves and hope in God.
Photos: Elijah Brown, BWA General Secretary
On this photo our group stands in front of a mural that pictures the local school teacher who taught the pupils now on both sides of the conflict zone front line. Her eyes are looking to the direction from where the bullets come.