Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT Alliance
responding in Ukraine, one year later
One year ago, on February 24 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, unleashing a humanitarian crisis that continues to impact the citizens of Ukraine, and the neighboring nations that have provided shelter, aid, and resources. Alongside our ecumenical partners through ACT Alliance, Week of Compassion has been engaged in the response from the start and will remain in partnership for the long-term support and recovery to come.
To mark the last year's impact, many of our partners have shared reports - hope-filled stories, striking photos and video - to lift up the work that has been done to care for the more than eight million Ukrainians displaced within their own country and taking refuge in bordering communities. We've gathered stories and photos to introduce you to just a few of these partners - Hungarian Interchurch Aid, Finn Church Aid, and ACT Alliance through whom all the partners connect. (Use the links to find more stories and reports from each partner.) We hope you'll spend time exploring their work, and know without a doubt that it is work we do together.
Week of Compassion remains in frequent conversation with ACT Alliance partners. We are grateful for the many ways Disciples have responded to the crisis affecting Ukraine. Our prayers and partnership and work continue.
Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA)
has four field sites in Ukraine as well as their own offices and centers in Hungary.
Find their full Ukraine report here, and a brief film (in English and subtitled) highlighting their relief efforts and the impact of ACT Alliance partnerships.
story via Hungarian Interchurch Aid, photo courtesy Simon Chambers/ACT Alliance
A favorite story from early in the response was of a four-legged caregiver named Doxa:
The trauma is bad for adults, who have [perhaps some] understanding of the conflict and why it has happened. It can be much worse for children whose worlds have often been turned upside down in just a few hours. In Berehove, their traumas are tackled by a big and fluffy Bernese Mountain Dog named Doxa, who – together with her therapist-owner Barbara Körözsi - comes to visit the displaced children in a shelter run by HIA every week.
“They need a sense of being in control in their lives. Many of them were told by their parents to leave their homes immediately, and have not had any sense of being able to have an impact on their surroundings. Leading Doxa on the leash and asking her to do tricks increases self-confidence and allows the traumatised children to regain a sense of control. ... There was one family who arrived, they had a boy and a girl. When they arrived, the children were afraid of any noise that sounded like war. Thunder caused anxiety in them. A psychologist from Kyiv tried to help, but couldn’t get very far with them. The children wouldn’t go anywhere without their mother. Playing with the dog [calms them and makes it] easier for them to talk about feelings, formulate memories and desires... Doxa can keep secrets, doesn’t judge, doesn’t deceive and doesn’t take advantage. Doxa simply loves – and the kids love her back."
Finn Church Aid (FCA)
is a significant implementing partner through ACT Alliance.
Their one-year Ukraine report is here, telling stories of those first days on the move, looking for shelter, finding help in the winter, and now looking to the future.
stories via Finn Church Aid, photos courtesy Antti Yrjönen
An obvious concern, as displaced families sought some familiarity and calm, has been how to maintain education and care for children and teenagers:
Kateryna is a 9th grader at Lyceum Number 25 in Zhytomyr, Ukraine. The school was destroyed by a missile strike in March 2022.
“... we had to take a two-month study break, and then we continued with online lessons. I felt so lucky when I was able to start my 9th grade offline [in person, in sheltered and fortifed schools]. I prefer offline learning because of better communication.”
“The war has caused a lot of problems in Ukraine. Thanks to my parents, friends and teacher, I have coped with all challenges. I miss everything in my destroyed school: the building, classrooms and atmosphere. It was very important to me. I want to finish school with excellent grades and go to university. I want to travel the world and have a good life.”
And of course, teachers are eager to be with their pupils, craving the chances to connect, teach, and tend to the students the love:
When Russia attacked Ukraine, Erika, an English teacher, sent her students home and started volunteering at the refugee shelter set up at the school.
She also provided her students with online lessons. Some of them stayed at home, as their school was full of refugees, but some also fled. Erika was visibly moved when talking about her students. “They’re teenagers. We have our ups and downs, but we can always find a solution to our difficulties. I love them.”
Erika took a deep breath and looked around in her own empty classroom, as we asked about her hopes for the future. “To be able to teach normal classes. I want to write on that blackboard and…,” she hesitates for a moment and starts laughing tiredly, “…yell at my students for not having done their homework.”
is a network of nearly 150 member churches, serving in more than 100 countries.
ACT Alliance partners respond to emergent and ongoing crises through the strength of relationships, mutuality, and long-standing trust. The report on ACT Alliance response in Ukraine can be found here.
stories (edited) and photos courtesy Simon Chambers/ACT Alliance
ona teaches English to adults in Sambir, Ukraine. But her story started at her home in Kherson, with an early morning phone call that the attacks had begun:
“When we left Kherson, the airport was already burning. There were huge traffic jams, people were panicking. [What was] usually a one hour drive took four hours. We had one 10L jug of water for our trip, and it took us 3 days to get to Sambir.”
They lived for three months with their friends, but it became clear that the war was not going to end any time soon.
So they found an old house and renovated and decorated it themselves. Her son continued on to Poland and is now in university there. Ilona’s 10 year-old daughter attends a local school and has found a group of other Ukrainians who fled the war that she has become friends with. And Ilona was recruited to teach English classes, as part of a community psychosocial support project.
“We are learning together,” Ilona explains. “There is no hurry, no pressure. We go around in a circle, everyone trying things. There is no judgement when we make mistakes.”
The important thing is that the students are together, in person. “Many of the students are alone,” Ilona says. “If you learn online, there is no one to socialize with.” And the social time is key in the psychosocial support to these displaced Ukrainians. “When we come together, and get to know each other, we have a community. We can open up and share our thoughts, our feelings, our experiences. Learning English isn’t the main thing, time together as a community is.”
Everywhere ACT Alliance partners serve, it is absolutely clear that compassion is not only the neighborly response, but the faithful one:
Budolai is an energetic leader in Balti, Moldova. He is also a person with a strong faith. Several years ago, he created Healthy Cities to help the most vulnerable people in Balti: homeless, addicts, people with disabilities. Last year, when Russia invaded Ukraine, and refugees began to cross the border in great numbers, he saw a way to reach out to this new group of people in need.
“We began by helping with transport from the border. I would be there for weeks at a time, and my wife Katya supported me in this,” he recalls.
Healthy Cities works with ACT members to provide all kinds of services to meet refugee families' needs, from food to hygiene items, to diapers, clothing and bedding. “We don’t give packages of specific items to the refugees,” Budolai says. “It is better for them to come and choose the items that they need. They take what they need and what they like. This is important so they have their dignity.”
The other areas of their work are centred on the needs and dignity of the refugees as well. They offer language classes, child care, psychosocial support, legal help, youth engagement, arts and crafts, and livelihood skills trainings.
“I wanted to help because it is the right thing to do,” he says. “This is part of practicing our faith. Faith without action is dead. If you see a person in need and you just close your eyes, that is wrong. The Church should be an answer to people’s needs.”
region / focus :