Recently, Matias Radziwiluk, director of WOL Ukraine, shared an update with us:
Even as news channels start to focus on other topics, the war in Ukraine rages on. Every day, children are killed, houses are razed to the ground, families are separated, air sirens sound, and rockets are fired. There is much, much pain. Honestly, it seems as though the worst is yet to come.
It is hard to come to terms with this reality–but our eyes are focused on our Savior. As we celebrate Easter this week, I am reminded of something visual and practical that Jesus left for His church to remember about Him: the bread and the wine. His body and his blood. I never truly understood the significance of those elements represented together, but I have come to understand them now. In one of the first meetings we had with our team when we evacuated from Ukraine, we could not read much, and we could not sing much. What we did is celebrate the Lord’s supper. We broke the bread and drank the wine. We were just sitting, huddled together with our fellow servants, with heavy hearts and tears in our eyes, looking as much as we could upon our Savior.
It was then that the Holy Spirit guided my thoughts to the unity of these symbols–the broken body of Jesus and the blood that He shed. The body of Jesus was beaten, broken, and pierced. He suffered. Why not just death? Simple death? Easy death? Jesus had to suffer through His death. And then came the blood–the blood that gives life. The blood that gives forgiveness. The blood that washes away our sins and makes us white as snow. The blood that gives us righteousness. The blood that gives life could not be shed if the body was not broken. Our eternal life was birthed out of His pain. Our righteousness out of His suffering. I understand that a little better now.
We are suffering. A lot. But Jesus is making something beautiful shine even brighter amongst this dark and evil war: His love and His goodness. He is spreading it across Ukraine and even Europe through His church. Just as it was on Calvary, something good is coming out of something evil, and we want to be a part of that.
The Joy of Liberation and the Horrors of Occupation
Over the last week, God has opened doors and provided all the necessary support for us to continue with our important ministry in Ukraine. The Ukraine Armed Forces have bravely defended the Kyiv, Chernihiv, and Sumy regions. All of them have been liberated from the Russian forces. This liberation opened a unique opportunity for our team to enter villages and towns that had been under Russian occupation for as long as 30 days. The following is a story from the liberated village of Yahidne, in the Chernihiv region, as told by families we evacuated from the town, which is no longer habitable:
“We were under Russian occupation for 25 days. On the first day, when the Russians took over the town, they took all 350 residents of the town and closed us up in the basement of the local school. From 7 PM until 7 AM, we were all locked in the basement, and in the morning, we were allowed to walk outside to get some fresh air and cook some food over a fire. After that, we would be shut in the basement for 2-4 hours during the day as well. The basement was damp and cold, especially in the first weeks–we still had freezing temperatures. There were little babies among the group that could only sleep in the arms of their mothers. They gathered pieces of cardboard or anything they could use, so as not to lie on the cold ground. During the 25 days of Russian occupation, 12 people died in the basement due to a lack of oxygen. Instead of having a proper burial, in the morning, the Russians piled the bodies in a house next door to the school. After a couple of weeks, the mothers begged to run quickly into their homes to get soap and some clothes for the children. They were given a strict amount of time to do this. One of the people was late by one minute and as a punishment, the whole group was closed in the basement for 4 hours.
The Russians had a portable bread oven so they had bread to eat. On one occasion, one of the Russian soldiers, a young conscript who was forced to fight, probably moved by pity, smuggled four loaves of bread into the basement. But during one of the routine inspections of the basement, the bread was found and taken away.
The Russians ran rather unexpectedly, the families were able to go inspect their homes. Sadly, most of their homes were destroyed. The Russian soldiers destroyed all their documents and stole everything they had, phones, valuables, and, in some of the houses, they even stole the kitchen faucets.”
Over the past weeks, our team was able to visit many towns and cities in this region. Our hearts are broken and devastated to see the destruction caused by this war. Once the Russian army was expelled from these areas, they left behind such destruction and horror that it is hard to wrap your head around some of the atrocities they have committed. It is total evil. Our team has been some of the first ones to visit these communities and deliver humanitarian aid, although it is still dangerous to enter many towns because of explosives and mines left behind by the Russians.
In several towns, we were able to visit local pastors and churches that served faithfully during this horrific occupation. It was a special encouragement for them to see fellow Christians delivering help to them, and we also provided them with more food packages and aid to continue to distribute to their community. Overall, we were able to distribute over 30 tons of food and aid to the communities near the Word of Life property, as well as to the devastated communities of Irpin, Bucha, Vorzel, and Borodyanka, where the fiercest battles took place near Kyiv.
Evacuations from Donbas
Over the last week, the Russian forces have been concentrating most of their efforts in the eastern part of Ukraine, in the Donbas region. This will become the center of the battle in the coming weeks. For this reason, and because of the ongoing fights in the region, much of the civilian population has been evacuating. Word of Life has made the 700-kilometer drive to the East to assist in these efforts. Most of our team is operating from the city of Druzhkivka. From that location, they are gathering people and transporting them to the city of Dnipro, where churches are helping evacuate civilians to the west. Over the past days, the team was able to evacuate more than 300 people.
Please, Continue to Pray
- Continue to pray for strength, safety, and stamina for our team in Ukraine
- Pray for the civilians who are leaving eastern Ukraine and seeking shelter in the central and western regions
- Pray that aid and provisions would continue to flow in so our team can deliver to those in need
- Pray that the Russians would continue to retreat