The past year has been long and difficult bringing many challenges and situations that we could have never imaged seeing or experiencing. Time and time again the past months have shown us that our strength is in the LORD and we are reliant on His grace, and we are totally insufficient trying to stand in our own strength. We have been grateful for the continued concern and support for the country and people of Ukraine this past year. Tragedy and death continue to play out colossally each and every day across the land of Ukraine.
Waking up on the morning of February 24 to the news of the Russian invasion, literally overnight everything in our lives and ministry changed, and quite unexpectedly we found ourselves involved in humanitarian and refugee work. We are thankful that God has placed us in this calling and in this position that we can be of service in this time of need. The truth, that our plans are not the LORD’s plan, has been very real for us as life and ministry was turned upside down this past year as war rages in Ukraine. We are very thankful for the financial support we have received both for our regular ministries and for the support given for refugees and the suffering people of Ukraine. We are so thankful to the many people who generously supported Ukraine and its people through our refugee work. With this financial support we were able to travel many times directly into Ukraine as well as to refugees forced from their homes and living in surrounding countries. With this financial support we were able to deliver 16 tons of food and humanitarian aid, while also providing transportation for dozens of people fleeing the war. Traveling nearly 20,000 miles on the highways and byways of Europe in the first three months of the war.
During the first days and weeks of the war, millions of refugees streamed out of the country of Ukraine. It is now estimated 15 million Ukrainians have been displaced. After the wars beginning, we became very involved in transporting dozens of refugees from the Hungary/Ukraine border to train stations, shelters and temporary living accommodations in Hungary. At the same time, bringing aid and supplies to help centers being set up on the border. As the flow of people exiting Ukraine slowed, we began creating routes and moving food and supplies to specific locations. Frequently we traveled back into Ukraine, while also taking trips to the Czech Republic and Poland to aid refugees there.
Highlighted below are the locations where we were involved.
Peterfalva, Transcarpathia Ukraine: Transcarpathia is the western most region of Ukraine. We are thankful to God that this region has largely remained peaceful throughout the war. This past spring Transcarpathia became a safe haven and filled with refugees from the war-torn areas of Ukraine. Refugee numbers in Transcarpathia constantly changed. Some refugees stayed for a short time before heading further west further west to Poland, Germany or countless other countries of Europe and the world. Others returned to their homes as fighting subsided in their home regions, choosing to risk continued missile strikes across the country. Others still have relocated long term and are now living in western Ukraine. Transcarpathia, the village of Peterfalva in particular, is where we have lived and worked much of the last 15 years. At its peak this past spring around 1,000 refugees were staying in the Peterfalva area. The Peterfalva Reformed High School, a school we have taught at for many years, hosted up to 70-80 refugees and fed 100-120 people every day for much of the spring and summer. The mayor of the town is a wonderful Christian man, whom we have known for years. Working closely with him, we were able to bring food and supplies to help support the efforts of those helping and hosting refugees in the Peterfalva area.
Uzghorod, Transcarpathia, Ukraine. Uzghorod, the capital city of the province of Transcarpathia became a destination and transportation hub for many refugees. We were able to partner with a Christian organization created in the early days of the war. Many of the men volunteering in this organization had relocated from other regions of Ukraine to Transcarpathia. They were donated some vans and began to take food and supplies throughout Ukraine including war torn areas near front lines. They would often bring food and supplies and then evacuate refugees back to western Ukraine. We have been able to help support and supply their efforts by bringing goods to them to take on to other regions in Ukraine.
Vari, Transcarpathia Ukraine. A nearly 60-year-old couple living in the small village of Vari opened their home to many refugees. Like in many locations, refugee numbers fluctuated but at their height this couple hosted 22 refugees who stayed with them. For months they have had many mouths to feed. We regularly stopped in Vari to help this couple feed and supply the many people they are hosting.
Fanchykovo, Transcarpathia, Ukraine. The brother of a close friend of ours provided lodging and support for three refugee families from Kyiv and Kharkiv in homes in this small village. We were able to make multiple stops to help and support him and his efforts to aid these three families.
While not making routine or regular stops, are travels also found us once taking baby supplies to a pastor involved in a ministry caring for orphan babies and once transporting cereals and breakfast food to a pastor involved with a Roma kindergarten.
Connections were made outside of Ukraine in locations across central Europe where efforts were being made to help aid the millions of people who left Ukraine. We began to reach out to contacts we had and explored avenues to help refugees outside of Ukraine. These relationships and connections resulted in numerous trips across central Europe.
Gdansk, Poland. Twice we traveled to Poland to the city of Gdansk. We brought food and humanitarian aid to a Reformed Pastor, Pawel Bartosik and his wife, Jola, who are providing aid for Ukraine refugees. Pawel is the pastor of Ewangeliczny Kościół Reformowany w Gdańsku. Pawel and Jola were personally hosting in their home a family from Ukraine. One of the women living with them was preganant when she came to them and had a baby while living with them. We brough food and supplies to support pastor Pawel in his efforts to help the refugees gathering in Gdansk. Advertising on Ukrainian refugee help pages on Facebook he received over 100 personal responses. Pastor Pawel distributed the food we brought to refugees in Gdansk area. He began to have his sermons and church services translated into Ukrainian as his congregation grew in size due to refugees coming to his church. On one trip to Gdansk, we were able to bring Ukrainian Bibles to him to give to refugees. We pray the Holy Spirit continues to work in this congregation, leading people to Christ through the ministry of this church.
Nova Paka, Czech Republic. Three times we traveled to Nova Paka, a small city in the north of the Czech Republic. We brought the van full of food, household goods, and even school supplies to help a group of 30-40 families who had fled Ukraine and were living scattered across this city. The families were from a church and Christian school community in Kyiv. They relocated together to Nova Paka by invitation of a church there. Many of the families were allowed to stay in a closed down hotel. The group came together to both encourage and support one another. They were able to find a building in their town to restart their Christian school while living as refugees in the Czech Republic. This past autumn some of the group went back to Kyiv to restart their Christian school there, while others have carried on with the new school location set up in Nova Paka.
A description and picture of the process in bringing aid to refugees. We took food directly to refugees or the churches/schools/people who are directly caring for them. We would buy and collect the food and humanitarian aid in Hungary, load it into our 9-passenger van and deliver it to the intended locations. In an effort to stop criminal activity taking advantage of the war situation and illegal contraband being
brought into the country, Ukraine put into effect rules and regulations surrounding humanitarian aid arriving to the country. With every trip into Ukraine with humanitarian aid we would have to provide extensive paperwork documenting every item, its price and weight listed in multiple languages. Ukrainian customs agents would give a brief visual inspection of the goods and then make copies of our paperwork and record everything into their computer system. Declarations of humanitarian aid, documentation, inspections, and photographs would
also have to be made at the Hungarian border to prove the goods would not be resold for profit in Ukraine, allowing the humanitarian aid to be tax exempt. Thankfully due to the borderless situation in the Schengen Zone of Europe no inspections or documentation was needed for trips to the Czech Republic or Poland. Four years ago, through a grant from the Zondervan Foundation, we were able to purchase a used Ford Transit. We are all the more thankful for our 9-passenger van this past year allowing us to transport many people and goods during these times of war. We could have never imagined what a blessing the van would be in such an unexpected way and situation.
We were very thankful for the help of Nathan de Vries throughout the spring and summer. We were blessed by his presence and help, partnering with us in this work. We are indebted to him and thankful that God brought him into our lives and ministry. We are thankful for the many people who have supported and prayed for us and our ministry and efforts this past year. We are grateful.