CITY CENTER COMMUNITY As the war began, World Vision’s 32 years of experience in Romania offered a solid foundation to partner with the government and local organizations in quickly setting up places for refugees to find
A pregnant Ana hopes her husband, Oleg, will get permission to travel to Moldova for the birth of their second child.
As of September, over 7 million refugees from Ukraine have found shelter throughout Europe since the war began on February 24. Most refugees, as well as people displaced within Ukraine, are women and children. Since the onset of the conflict, World Vision has been working in Romania, Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine through churches and local organizations and with government groups to provide support.
Seven months pregnant, Ana struggled with the idea of leaving her home in Ukraine until finally, she felt she had no choice. As she was out walking with her husband, Oleg, two rockets exploded in the sky over the city center of Mykolaiv where they lived. They knew the time had come for Ana and their 18-month-old son, Leonid, to seek safety. They fled to Moldova as Oleg stayed behind to defend Ukraine, along with most men ages 18 to 60.
Ana saw the explosions’ toll on little Leonid: “For a day and a half, he didn’t get any sleep. The moment he would fall asleep, he would wake up shaking. It was not a place for me to stay, especially [being] pregnant.”
Moldovan doctors felt that Ana could deliver before full term, so she began frantically filling out paperwork so that Oleg would be allowed to leave Ukraine and be with her for their baby’s birth.
Ana and Leonid found shelter at Centrul Crestin Sfanta Treime (Holy Trinity Christian Center) in the city of Chișinău. The church had opened its doors to help refugee families by offering beds, home-cooked meals, and hygiene supplies.
Pastor Alexandru Malancea doesn’t call them refugees, but rather guests. He tells his staff, “I don’t see a person running away from the war. I see Jesus.”
Ana sees that sentiment lived out.
“I feel like I’m home, that I belong here,” says Ana. “We all have one God and we’re here on earth to be able to support each other and to be there for each other.”
Through tears she says she’s grateful that, even though separated, her family members are still alive — that, and thinking about welcoming her soon-to-arrive child keeps her moving forward in this troubled time.
THE RIGHT PLACE
Television host and Presbyterian minister Mister Rogers famously reminded people to “look for the helpers” in times of trouble. Around the world, many helpers have stepped up to support people fleeing the war in Ukraine. The support comes in ways as varied as the people offering it.
At the church where Ana found shelter, 21-year-old Alina greets arriving refugees with care, kindness, and a shy smile that blesses those receiving it.
Alina says she’s guided by Galatians 6:2, which reads, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (ESV). On staff at the church, she normally works in the library. Now she’s dedicated to helping refugees from Ukraine to feel at home and welcomed.
“It’s a blessing for me to be here,” she says. “God has given me the honor to be here and to serve these people.”
Alina registers refugees and leads them to their beds, which she’s made up with clean sheets. She also helps cook and cleans up after meals.
“What motivates me the most is the people and their stories and what they’re going through,” she says.
She remembers a time in her life when she was so busy and felt herself drifting away from God. Now she’s busier than ever but finds herself closer to God and feels Him working her life.
“I feel a great dose of joy that I can do this,” Alina says. “I think that all this what God wants me to do, and I feel fulfilled as I never felt before.”
SUPPORTING THE HELPERS
Angelica also finds herself in the right place at the right time. “I think I’m a person who always helps someone who needs it,” she says
In late February, Angelica began offering shelter to as many as 14 people in her three-bedroom apartment, where she lives with her 19-year-old daughter and 30-year-old son.
In Moldova, the World Food Programme (WFP) has partnered with World Vision to provide a special cash grant to families hosting at least two Ukrainian refugees for more than one week. The program began in April, with each host family receiving 3,500 Moldovan lei (US $190) to help cover expenses.
Angelica learned about the program through the people she was hosting. She was grateful for the assistance because her expenses had risen, especially for electricity and water. The cash can be used on anything the family deems necessary to help in their support of refugees.
Youssef Mhanna, World Vision’s Moldova operations team lead, says, “We know that the majority of this cash grant will be spent on food, but also non-food items … as well [as] paying … utility bills and other invoices.”
BUILDING AN EXTENDED FAMILY
By April 2022, one family remained in Angelica’s home — a mother and her three daughters. Angelica and her children embraced them. She says, “We do everything together. We cook, clean, go for a walk.” Angelica’s family even included them in their Easter celebration.
Living with Angelica and her kids has offered an extended family to Ukrainian sisters Eugenia, Ana, and Arianna.
“When we were leaving, everything was usually like they show the war [on TV], shooting, bombing,” says 14-year-old Eugenia. “I was very scared. I didn’t know how I would be received.”
In Angelica’s 19-year-old daughter, Elisabeth, Eugenia and Ana found an older sister — someone who helps them navigate the unfamiliar environment of Chișinău. Angelica and Elisabeth babysit the younger girls while their mom works.
Elisabeth’s face lights up as she explains how the girls have also made a dream come true for her. “They helped me to feel like I’m a big sister,” she says. She takes this role seriously by walking with the girls to local parks and helping 9-year-old Ana with her homework.
Elisabeth doesn’t see her family’s generosity as anything extraordinary. “It’s important to help because we are people, and we don’t know what it will be tomorrow,” she says. “Today, I help. Tomorrow, you help.”
Even though Ana and Eugenia miss the family and friends they left behind in Ukraine, they didn’t feel safe once the war began. “I couldn’t sleep well there,” says Eugenia. “I couldn’t go out for a walk, but I can do all these [things] here. I’m happy here.”
Youssef thanks all the Moldovan host families, and stresses the need for continued global support: “We as World Vision appreciate what you are doing. And we will pray for you, and we will try to help you to continue supporting the Ukrainian refugees.”
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