Displaced Crimean children take language and arts classes at a welcome center in Kyiv, capital of Ukraine. Photo: Nazar Yatsyshyn.
By David Tereshchuk*
September 9, 2014—As the Ukraine crisis deepens and gets more complex, hundreds of thousands of ordinary civilians have found their lives thrown into upheaval.
Whether with the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula in March this year or the later fighting in the eastern cities of Slavyansk, Kramatorsk and Luhansk, families have been forced to flee their homes, leaving everything behind.
Many have found refuge on the Russian side of the Ukraine-Russia border in the city of Sochi, while others have found their way to Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv (Kiev), and other major cities. According to the United Nations, at least 1 million people have been displaced in total because of the conflict.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief, UMCOR, has been supporting populations in need on both sides of the border, helping to maintain vital supplies of food.
To accomplish this, UMCOR is working with the United Methodist Church of Eurasia. General Board of Global Ministries missionary Rev. John Calhoun is stationed in Kyiv, serving as director of the United Methodist Church Center there. The crisis has presented the Church Center with great challenges, but staff and volunteers have responded determinedly, in particular, helping Crimeans who have sought shelter in two local welcome centers.
“UMCOR’s financial support has enabled the United Methodist Church in Ukraine to purchase meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, dry goods and other staple food items, ensuring families receive adequate supplies through the end of October,” Calhoun reported.
The food assistance provides a safety net for the displaced community during their current transition. In the months ahead, uprooted Crimeans will decide where they will settle for the long term—whether to return to Crimea, remain in Kyiv, or move on elsewhere in Ukraine.
“Our humanitarian assistance aims to ease temporary burdens within the community,” Calhoun said, “enabling families to better use their own limited resources to resolve other issues.”
Widely across Ukraine, United Methodist congregations are opening their doors to people in need who have fled both Crimea and eastern Ukraine because of the conflict.
One somewhat unexpected community that has had to seek help is a group of African students attending college in battle-torn Luhansk. The city has become a dangerous and risky place to live. The United Methodist church there only narrowly escaped serious damage when a bomb fell on an adjoining property.
In July, the African students, who had become members of that congregation, were forced out of their dormitories when these were taken over by pro-separatist rebels. But they were soon provided with housing, food assistance and spiritual comfort by the United Methodist community in Kyiv.
Every day now, the students gather in a church-owned apartment in the capital for fellowship, Bible study, and a home-cooked meal. This month, the student community will inaugurate a new English-language worship service in Kyiv’s United Methodist Church Center.
Displaced Ukrainians as well as additional African students are also receiving shelter, food and spiritual support from United Methodist pastors and laity in the cities of Uzhgorod in the west and Poltava in central Ukraine.
In the words of Bishop Eduard Khegay of the United Methodist Church of Eurasia, “As people called Methodists, we move as the Spirit moves us to be where suffering people are.”
Your gift to UMCOR International Disaster Response, Advance #982450, will help UMCOR respond to those affected by the violence in Ukraine and by natural and human-caused humanitarian crises elsewhere in the world.
*David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who contributes regularly to UMCOR.org.