Now a refugee herself, Ukrainian MCC staffer continues to help the displaced

MCC staff member Anna made a pot of borscht at a refugee shelter assembled with support from MCC by an Evangelical Baptist church in western Ukraine. The flowers were a gift from her youngest daughter to mark International Women’s Day on March 8. — Mennonite Central Committee MCC staff member Anna made a pot of borscht at a refugee shelter assembled with support from MCC by an Evangelical Baptist church in western Ukraine. The flowers were a gift from her youngest daughter to mark International Women’s Day on March 8. — Mennonite Central Committee

In the silence between the warnings of air raid sirens, the sound of a small choir echoed out of a church sanctuary in western Ukraine. Just the night before, Anna (whose last name is withheld for her security), administrative coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee Ukraine, had hummed a few bars of the song during an evening tea break at the church.

Uplifted by that quiet moment of inspiration, the pastor suggested the young people record the song as an act of worship. He hoped the lyrics speaking of God’s power and protection might offer 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 neighbors. Anna and her family fled Zaporizhzhia, their home in southeastern Ukraine, as the Russian invasion edged dangerously close. They were taken in by the pastor and his family near Lviv.

Anna and her family immediately joined the efforts to house, feed and care for refugees moving to or through western Ukraine.

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 refugees, often dozens 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 donations to MCC’s Ukraine emergency response.

For years, Anna’s work has involved supporting displaced people from other parts of the country. Now she’s experiencing that from the other side. She says that even as prepared as her family was physically to flee their home, it’s impossible to be prepared emotionally.

“When I came to the church [last week], I entered the building and I started to cry,” she said. “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. . . .

“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, we are refugees.”

While her experience as a refugee has been emotionally and spiritually taxing, she’s found meaning and hope by helping others.

“I cannot imagine that a week ago I was as a refugee — like, I just came here,” Anna said. “But in the last few days I was able to welcome these people who just came from these hard places. I can see how much fear and worry they have in their eyes. I can understand what they’re feeling. I can invite them to the table to sit and to be there and to eat this warm meal.

“I tell them that now they’re in a safe place — praise the Lord — and that we have friends around the world.”

In addition to Anna’s efforts near Lviv, MCC continues to respond to 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 displaced people as well as fuel for people who are evacuating.

In Zaporizhzhia, an MCC partner is delivering food baskets to the homes of people 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.

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