Try to imagine hearing air raid sirens scream out their warning. In your panic, you seek shelter. Your freezing fingers remind you of the warm coat you’ve forgotten back home. Or maybe you pack the car full of blankets and food, planning to flee to a safer location. You hope you won’t get stuck in a kilometres-long line at a checkpoint. But as your child runs a fever, you realize you didn’t pack any medicine.
These are the kinds of stories Linda Herr, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) area director for Europe and the Middle East, is hearing from MCC partners and staff in Ukraine every time she picks up her phone. But amid the incredible hardships Ukrainians are facing, she also hears stories of communities coming together in extraordinary ways.
She says that MCC partners in Ukraine are already meeting essential and immediate needs on the ground where they are.
“We are seeing a very local response,” she says. “Many of our partners are taking funds that would have been used for local projects that can’t happen now, and they’re buying food, medicine, blankets, mattresses—anything and everything that people need.”
They are bringing mattresses to people who are sleeping in basements or stairwells, that are serving as makeshift bomb shelters. They are setting up rooms in schools that provide shelter for people on the move. Partners are also providing fuel for vehicles and food for families on their way to other, more secure parts of the country.
“They’re saying ‘I know you’re my neighbour, I know you’re in need. Maybe you’re just passing through from some other part of the country, but you need something, and I can help you,’ ” she says.
With Ukraine’s ports now blocked off by Russian military forces, and no air access, supplies are hard to come by. MCC partners are focusing on what they can do in the moment, purchasing what they can find and transporting supplies in whatever size vehicles they have available.
Local church partners are also doing their best to provide essentials for people who were struggling even before the conflict broke out.
“Churches are sharing contact information of people who are elderly, disabled or sick—those who normally are unable to leave their homes,” says Herr. “People who don’t have a lot of resources and can’t just call for help anymore.”
That sharing of information means vulnerable people can receive resources they wouldn’t be able to get themselves while their city is in conflict. Churches have been hubs for supply distribution, and they also serve as places of comfort during times of trauma and stress.
“Churches are gathering to pray and to encourage each other when they can,” she says. “And when meeting in person is too dangerous, they send photos to each other as a source of encouragement.”
While MCC partners are finding creative ways to provide emergency relief, they are also working with MCC to plan medium- and long-term responses to the devastation. Future projects will likely address needs in the areas of food, shelter and trauma care, especially for those who are being displaced by violence.
“It’s humbling to be between the people who want to give and the people who are seeing the need, who are trying to get resources into people’s hands,” she says. “But the partners, the people in Ukraine, they’re telling me they’re tired. So many people have left, and for those who remain, there is so much work yet to do.
“Please pray for the people here. Every minute this conflict continues, the humanitarian impacts worsen. Pray for peace. And pray that our partners will continue to have the strength to carry on their good work.”
This article appears in the March 21, 2022 print issue, with the headline “‘I know you’re my neighbour, I know you’re in need.’”
MCC partner, Kharkiv Independent ECB Churches, evacuated residents, housing them at a local Christian school and at the House of Hope, a seniors residence in a village community 50 kilometers from Kharkiv. (The names of the people pictured are not provided for security reasons.) (Photo courtesy of MCC)