Faces from Ukraine

Photographing for World Without Orphans in Uzhhorod Ukraine – Capturing Grace on a multi week journey through Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Poland and France. 

July 12, 2022  • Uzhhorod, Ukraine

Today our World Without Orphans team (Karmen Friesen , Ruby Johnston, Susan Hillis & Andrii Fedun) met with members of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ) along with Nehemiah Uzhhorod to learn and listen about the IDP (internally displaced people) crisis in Ukraine. 

The UNHCR is a United Nations agency mandated to aid and protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities, and stateless people, and to assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.

Due to the war, millions of people, mostly women and children, have been forced to flee Ukraine. They are sheltering in underground train stations, walking hundreds of miles and leaving behind everything they’ve ever known. UNHCR is on the ground scaling its response to provide assistance and ensure those displaced find safety in welcoming arms in this moment of crisis.

Our World Without Orphans team came to listen to the needs and is assisting with practical strategies, much needed training for trauma counseling, facilitating help and healing to the thousands of displaced people here in Uzhhorod Ukraine.

Ukraine Without Orphans has spent the last 12 years building an active network of ministry partners and churches throughout Ukraine. This network is now uniquely positioned for such a time as this – to bring critical aid and to orchestrate evacuation efforts.

Here are some of the take aways that Ruby Johnston, Director of International Field Operations for World Without Orphans summarized – 

Teenagers are in big trouble, suicide is a big problem and young people are even thinking about going back to places that don’t exist anymore. 

Mothers are not feeling confident themselves, turning to their children to help them to make decisions. There is an issue where mothers are turning to alcohol and drugs. And those are the protective factors that they are using to mask the trauma. 

“Tanya  I’m so encouraged by your capacity as an animator. Because we heard very clearly yesterday children need activities. And families need to rest from the children. We also heard that there is need because there are leaders who are experiencing compassion fatigue and secondary traumatic stress. Do you feel it yourself sometimes? That you are overwhelmed by the stories all the time?” (ALL THE HANDS WENT UP)

And the reality is the wounded cannot lead the wounded. It’s extremely important that we have affected self care and we can help others understand the same thing. In addition to that, one of the things that I’ve heard is that there is a great need for resilience building. How the problems are solved, how to manage relationships and building new ones. So building resilience. 

Trauma is tearing down the inside of the person. Strengths are defeated, weakened, emotional distress is running rampant and from yesterday we could hear that there is potential for strengthening those whom you’re working by strengthening ourselves first.

So what we share with you to consider, Tetiana is about equipping ourselves to equip others.

Specifically looking at trauma informed strategies, and then being able to share with those who are experiencing trauma, what it’s doing to their body and then to their mind.

Trauma and toxic stress have the potential to change the architecture of the brain. When it happens our mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers that are here, those that have gone through stress, they very definitely have the difficulty making decisions and being resilient. That is due to what is happening to their brain, same with children.

So what we’re looking at is not just here but all across the world where there are vulnerable children of families in crisis, we need to understand more about trauma. So for us what we want to share with you is a beginning look at trauma. And equipping ourselves so we can help others.

The WWO team then passed out training material for dealing with trauma that was gratefully received.

During my time here in Uzhhorod I met with several families who have evacuated from eastern Ukraine.

July 12, 2022  • Uzhhorod, Ukraine

Today I had the privilege of meeting sweet little five year old Sveta who survived the terror that rained down on her city of Kharkiv, somehow her and her smile survived. 

When Russian shells began raining down on Saltivka in February, life in the neighborhoods numbered apartment blocks became a lottery – one block hit, the next spared. Inside each building, the residents of each apartment survived by their own luck, one apartment turned to ash, the next untouched.

As the bombardment of Kharkiv went on – March, April, May, June – fewer and fewer buildings in Saltivka were spared. Now the neighbourhood is a ghost town. Everywhere you look, deathly black burn marks rise up from the windows where shells hit. There are multi-story gashes in the sides of the buildings. There are neat circular holes in the roofs where shells punched through but didn’t detonate.

There are personal possessions strewn over the pathways between the buildings – ejected from the flats above with terrible force. And the shells are still falling.

And somehow, little Sveta, part of a Roma community in Kharkiv, along with her father lived to tell about. She is not sue if her mother is alive, they have been told the she was taken to Moscow. 

Sveta and her father are now recipients of the love and care provided by Nehemiah Ukraine.

July 13, 2022  • Uzhhorod, Ukraine

During my time in Uzhhorod I sat down with a family who recently arrived here in Uzhhorod. 

29 year old Iryna, her 70 year old father Ivan and her six year old daughter Albyna. They are now considered IDP’s (internally displaced persons) after being forced to evacuate from their town of Gulyapole. Gulyapole is located in the region of Zaporizhzhia in Eastern Ukraine. 

Iryna was born in Gulyapole ukraine in 1993, this was her home for 29 years until her city was viciously attacked by Russia. 

“The first day of war felt like a nightmare, my daughter Albyana was shaking uncontrollably, my husband and I took turns holding her tight.”

Even now, here in Uzhhorod, she shakes when the missile alert sirens go off, I can attest to this from my own experience this morning at 4:30am. 

“I’ll never forget the sound of rockets over our home… flames were everywhere… so much fire… our friends homes were burning” 

“Somehow we survived the night, I don’t know how, we were evacuated to a basement, where we lived for a week. After that week in the basement, Ukrainian soldiers said “you must leave Gulyapole now if you want to live”.  We left with only what we were wearing and only three hryvnia (that’s less than $1) in my pocket. My husband stayed behind to fight in the war.“

How do you feel now? I asked.  

“Feel? My soul is empty, I have no life, a part of me has died. A part of us is still back in Gulyapole Ukraine mourning the loss of family and neighbors.”

“My soul  is empty”

Iryna has so much anger and fear inside, understandably. Every once in a while during our interview she would start shaking and just start repeating the words “why… why… why… we were just minding our own business, living our lives, a good life… we did not need to be rescued, rescued from what, happiness? Our jobs? Our lives? Is Putin so jealous??”

I will continue to knock on doors around the world until we find the one that God chooses to open, we trust him, we know that he has a plan and that his plan will be beautiful.

Iryna looked into my eyes, she wanted answers from me that I had no ability to provide.

In another outburst, most of which I cannot quote here, she said to Russian soldiers “ go back to your *#%!ing Russia and leave us alone.

We were free… we were fine. “

Iryna’s eyes brightened when I asked her what the ministry of Nehemiah here in Uzhhorod  means to her.

“The Nehemiah ministry has Provided a place to sleep with clean sheets. The food makes us feel human again. I am grateful far medicine, hygiene, counseling for me and my daughter Albyna (6 yes old).

“Here in this place we are getting our lives back, Albyna is starting to speak again, slowly, she is expressing herself through art and drawing.”

Please pray for Iryna, Albyana and grandfather Ivan who is so kind. They have survived so much but the road ahead will be hard.

July 14, 2022  • Uzhhorod, Ukraine

“Russia’s relentless shelling of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv with cluster munitions and scatterable land mines amounts to a war crime that indiscriminately killed hundreds of civilians” 

– Amnesty International

39-year-old Ivan, along with his wife, 37-year-old Inna somehow survived the monumental bombing and destruction of the city of Kharkiv where they have lived for all of their their life. 

It was my honor and privilege to sit with this family here in Uzhhorod Ukraine where they now live as IDP‘s, (internally displaced people). I listened in awe to the  events that have forever changed the lives of ten year old Sasha, six-year-old Lira, 63-year-old grandmother Elena, 64-year-old grandfather Mykola and 87-year-old great grandmother Liudmyla (not pictured). 

Before the war broke out on February 20, 2022 

Ivan was a public relations manager for Publishing House, now, his office and life, have burned to the ground. 

Inna was a teacher at the national University of Civil Protection where she taught public administration.

February 20th changed everything, the missiles rained down on their city like hell from the heavens, they hid in a kindergarten basement for shelter. One week seemed like an eternity. One week in the dark, one week with 30 children and 60 adults, each person united in a singular goal, to protect those they they love, to stay alive. 

At this point in my interview, mother Inna turned to daughter Sasha and asked her to recite what she memorized during that one week in the basement. Sasha’s reciting of the Lords Prayer never held so much meaning to me as it did in that moment.

February 24th this family made a gut wrenching decision to leave their home of Kharkiv in order to save their lives. This family of seven wedged into grandfather Mykola’s little Lada and started a nightmarish journey that ended here in western Ukraine, at the ministry of Nehemiah Team Ukraine in Uzhhorod.

The yellow ribbons they tied onto the mirror of their car identified them as Ukrainian‘s who are peacefully leaving their city, the signs in the rear window indicated there are small children on board. They prayed that these words and symbols would bring them safety, knowing that for many it did not.

In one of the photographs posted, you will see 87 year old great grandmother Liudmyla, A World War II survivor when she was six years old. She now prays that her six-year-old great granddaughter will survive this moment in history as she did.

The people of Ukraine are survivors, their history has taught them to fight, to be brave and to endure.

What does Nehemiah Team Ukraine mean to Ivan and Inna?

Safety, community, they are thankful to Tetiana who has organized this community and for making it feel like home.

“Nehemiah has helped restore our faith in a God who, despite the events of this very broken world, loves us and has a plan for our life.”

July 15, 2022  • Uzhhorod, Ukraine

July 13th – With my heart holding more stories than I have time to share I am packing my bags to leave Uzhhorod Ukraine for Warsaw Poland. 

My time in Uzhhorod has been unforgettable, stories and faces etched deeply on my heart. 

Faces of disappointment, sorrow and grief, faces of healing and faces of help. I am so inspired by the work of my friend Andre through World Without Orphans and Nehemia Ukraine’s Tetiana Machabeli. 

These parting images are filled with emotion from memories, both good and bad, I leave Uzhhorod with a heart that is inspired and full of hope. 

About WWO

Ukraine Without Orphans has spent the last 12 years building an active network of ministry partners and churches throughout Ukraine. This network is now uniquely positioned for such a time as this – to bring critical aid and to orchestrate evacuation efforts. Today YOU can help increase their impact.

By supporting our WWO partners in Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, Slovakia and Poland your generous gift will help meet the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of vulnerable children and families.

I invite you to learn more about what WWO is doing to impact the lives of Ukraians who have been impacted by the war.

About Nehemia Ukraine

You can learn more about the work of Nehemiah.

Rocket attacks and artillery fire are shaking Ukraine. What this means for the country and the people makes us stunned and calls us to act quickly. Our Ukrainian Nehemia team Nehemia in Uzhhorod plays a major role in addressing the many humanitarian challenges in Transcarpathia. They have been very active in helping refugees for years and are also recognized as coordinators by the Ukrainian government. They have currently prepared about 150 places for refugees. We calculate that about 6000€ per month will be needed to take care of these people. In addition, more finances are needed to create more emergency shelters in the city area as well. We will also participate in an aid transport to Uzhgorod. Please share this appeal! 

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