Lives on Hold: Ukrainian Refugees Find Solace through Good Samaritan Charity

June 12, 2014

Elias and Catherine Butt fled with their daughters from Crimea to western Ukraine. The family´s temporary home is an orphanage run by Good Samaritan Mission-L´viv.

Father´s House in Kiev and Good Samaritan Mission-L´viv are among several Ukrainian ministries that have received long-time assistance from Christian Aid Mission. Both groups operate children´s homes that have recently opened their doors to shelter individuals displaced by the conflict with Russia.

Last week we featured a story about orphans who were relocated to Father´s House to escape instability in eastern Ukraine. In part two, we share the heartbreak and hope of one Crimean family who found accommodations at Good Samaritan Mission. They wonder when, if ever, they will be able to return home.

While Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists face off in the embattled east, thousands of displaced families are seeking what they hope will be a short-term sojourn in the western part of the country.

According to a May report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), political turmoil has prompted the movement of some 10,000 civilians. At least one third of the internally displaced are children.

About 45 percent of the IDP families are moving to central Ukraine, while 26 percent are relocating to western Ukraine, the report stated. Most are Crimeans who did not want to live under Russian authority.

Elias and Catherine Butt are among an estimated 2,500 refugees who made the journey from Crimea to the city of L´viv. They left everything behind and fled with their two young daughters to western Ukraine the day before the referendum for Russian annexation was held.

The Butt family lived in Kerch, very close to the highway that connects Ukraine with Russia. It was a common occurrence to see convoys of military vehicles rolling past their neighborhood. Their children trembled with fear when they saw soldiers.

Deciding to get out before the border closed, the Butts risked their lives in the hopes of making a fresh start elsewhere. Their exodus was difficult—and dangerous. In one town they were forced to stop at a Russian-manned checkpoint. It was a harrowing moment when the family sat helplessly in their car with rifles pointed at them.

Elias pleaded with the guards to let them pass through, explaining that his wife was seven months pregnant. Finally the guards lifted the gate and motioned for them to proceed. Breathing a prayer and a huge sigh of relief, the foursome kept driving until they crossed out of the disputed area. Their lengthy journey eventually ended in L´viv, near the border with Poland.

House of mercy, haven of rest

Displaced families enjoy fellowship and a peaceful meal, but they long to return to their home communities.

Through contacts the Butt family heard about Good Samaritan Mission-L´viv (GSML), a Ukrainian ministry that operates an orphanage and supports evangelistic work in the region. The ministry was offering temporary accommodations at the children´s home for families like theirs that had been displaced by the political situation.

The Butts are grateful to have a comfortable and secure place to stay. The family was exultant last month when Catherine gave birth to a healthy baby—another girl. Elias is frustrated, however, as he has not been able to find stable employment since they moved to L´viv in mid-March.

That search may become more challenging as refugee families continue to stream into the city and other sections of western Ukraine. Already the ministry has taken in 12 families, totaling 59 adults and children, from Crimea and the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine. At the House of Mercy orphanage, they are providing shelter for 37 people, including 23 children. In addition, orphanage administrators are awaiting the arrival of 23 more boys and girls from Luhansk.

Christian Aid Mission has been a long-time supporter of GSML, having helped them plant several churches in Crimea and western Ukraine and assisted them in prison ministry and children´s outreach programs.

Assisting refugees, however, is a new arena for GSML workers. No one can guess how much longer the conflict will last. With each passing month the ministry´s resources grow more strained. The director says expenses to care for the displaced families and orphans amounts to some $5,000 per month.

“All this work we are doing voluntarily with donations from Christian people,” the director said. “Ukraine is experiencing a difficult economic crisis and utility bills have risen by 40 percent. In times like these, we are looking for support to meet these needs.”