In the silence that lived between the deadly warnings of air raid sirens, the sound of a small choir, singing a song of praise, echoed out of a church sanctuary in western Ukraine. Just the night before, Anna, administrative coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Ukraine, had absent-mindedly hummed a few bars of the song during an evening tea break at the church.
Uplifted by that quiet moment of inspiration, the church’s pastor suggested some of the young people in the church record a performance of the song as an act of worship. He hoped the lyrics speaking of God’s power and protection might offer spiritual comfort in a dangerous time.
But this hymn about God’s love and power isn’t the only thing the church is offering to their neighbours. Anna (last name withheld for security reasons) and her family fled Zaporizhzhia, their home in southeastern Ukraine, as the conflict edged dangerously close. They were taken in by the church’s pastor and his family near Lviv. Anna and her family immediately joined the efforts of the church to house, feed and care for as many of the masses of refugees moving to or through western Ukraine as they could manage.
They’ve filled the upper level of the church with foam mattresses and blankets to offer rest to the weary. They’re finding temporary homes for as many refugees as they can, often dozens of people each day. They pray with and for those who are without hope. And they prepare hot meals and clean water for the hungry and thirsty.
All the work Anna is doing with the church and alongside other local organizations is supported by generous donations to MCC’s Ukraine emergency response.
For years, Anna’s work has involved supporting displaced people from other parts of the country, and now she’s having that experience from the other side. She says that even as prepared as her family was physically to flee their home, it’s essentially impossible to be prepared emotionally for what it is like.
“When I came to the church [last week], I entered the building and I started to cry,” she says. “I started to cry a lot, I could not stop. Because I was feeling that I lost something, or I was leaving something in the past. I understood that we are refugees now. We are far away from our home. It was only a few years ago we were serving refugees from the east of Ukraine. We had refugees in our church. And now I understand that in this time, we are refugees somewhere.”
While her experience as a refugee has been emotionally and spiritually taxing, she says she’s found a great deal of meaning and hope by choosing to help others experiencing the same challenges.
“I cannot imagine that a week ago I was as a refugee, like, I just came here,” Anna says. "But in the last few days, I was able to welcome these people who just came from these hard places. And I can see how much fear and worry they have in their eyes. But I can understand what they’re feeling. And now I can invite them to the table to sit and to be there and to eat this warm meal. And I tell them that now they’re in a safe place — praise the Lord — and that we have friends around the world. So I try to be useful. I try to be helpful for people who just arrived here.”
In addition to Anna’s efforts near Lviv, MCC continues to respond to immediate needs in Ukraine through its local partners. In Uman and in the Cherkasy region, an MCC partner is providing lodging, meals, basic medications and food items for internally displaced persons as well as fuel for people who are evacuating. In Zaporizhzhia, an MCC partner is delivering food baskets to the homes of individuals with disabilities. And in Avdiivka, an MCC partner is providing families that are staying in the city with food and enough funds to cover basic needs for two weeks.
MCC staff member Anna, centre, with her family and members of the local Evangelical Baptist church in western Ukraine that has converted their building into a refugee shelter with support from MCC for those fleeing the conflict. (Photo courtesy of MCC)