After walking hundreds of miles to Poland with her 8-year-old son in winter and leaving her husband behind to fight Russia’s invasion, a Ukrainian refugee who made it to Spain could only pray.
Emotionally shattered while recovering at a local ministry’s care center in southern Spain, Natasha prayed for help after losing the life she’d had in Ukraine’s second largest city. She and her son had walked most of the nearly 700 miles from their home in Kharkiv to the border with Poland.
“When they left their city, they were only carrying what they were wearing and a backpack each, so during the journey many times they thought they were going to die of the cold,” the ministry leader said. “The mother and son would get together to keep each other warm.”
They were just two of the 100,000 Ukrainians arriving daily in Poland. Natasha and her son, Olek*, had set out for Spain because she’d heard glowing reports about the local ministry’s aid from a Ukrainian friend whom workers had rescued from human traffickers and helped to resettle. The route to Poland was grueling, with Natasha and Olek often scavenging for food amid snow-covered landscapes or garbage containers.
“When they arrived at the Polish border, their feet were shattered, and the boy was very tired and very skinny,” the ministry leader said.
When authorities in Poland learned she knew people in Spain, they put them on a plane to Valencia, where they stayed at a hostel for a few days before the ministry received them in Andalusia. Besides food, clothing and shelter, workers are providing psychological help.
“We help them spiritually and also emotionally so that they can recover from all that they have suffered,” the leader said “We see in them a feeling that God sent them to Spain and to us to protect them. Olek started going to school yesterday, and because he is very thin – he lost a lot of weight and his legs are very sore – we are providing him special treatment.”
Olek’s grandparents had planned to stay in Ukraine but also arrived in Spain after a bomb destroyed their house. Aided by people willing to help older people travel by car, the 70-year-old grandfather had feared Ukrainian authorities would not let him cross and recruit him to fight. Ukrainian officials have required all able men ages 18 to 60 to defend the country against the vastly superior Russian military.
“Just when we were praying for him, the border guard did not ask him for documentation,” the ministry leader said. “He told him to come in, and he was able to pass with his wife – it was something like miraculous, he says, and the church was praying, so now we have him here with us too.”
The refugees raised in the traditions of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have a sense of God though they don’t know Christ’s salvation, he said. Workers helping them to recover spiritually as well as physically are sharing the message of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ Jesus.
“These people still don’t know much about the gospel, but they thank God for having known us and for being here with us,” the leader said. “Soon many more people like this will arrive.”
In three emergency response centers, the local ministry is caring for more than 100 refugees from Ukraine, with more expected; Spain expects to receive at least 750,000 refugees from the shell-shocked country.
The invasion of Ukraine that began on Feb. 24 marked a sharp escalation of Russia’s efforts to install a pro-Russian government in Ukraine, as Russian-backed separatists have been trying to do in armed conflict since 2014.
Christian Aid Mission also assists a ministry based in an undisclosed country bordering Ukraine, where workers are caring for some of the more than 200,000 refugees arriving there, as well as many internally displaced within Ukraine.
The ministry has a network of 70 churches within Ukraine that have turned into refugee centers, the group leader said. One church facility designed for 100 people is overflowing with 500.
“They are full of refugees, and they have indicated that they don’t have enough humanitarian aid – it means the shelves are closed and empty,” he said. “We found a businessman who has some trucks, and he gave us permission to use his trucks to send humanitarian aid to Ukraine.”
Ukrainians fleeing Russian bombing of homes and other civilian targets need food, medicines and other items, he said.
“They need especially food for the children, because they are able to make goulash or soups for adults, but there are a lot of babies,” the leader said. “They really need support. This is our priority: we want to send them clean water, food and other items for children, food they can prepare very fast without hours of cooking. This is what they asked. We are daily in touch with them.”
The emergency aid that local ministry workers in Europe are providing is crucial for Ukrainian refugees’ survival. Please consider a donation today to help workers bring the love of Christ to the massive refugee influx.
*Names changed for security reasons