How One City in Ukraine is Restoring Hope for Thousands of Refugees

By Stephanie Naimo
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The world becomes a smaller place when statistics become faces. And names. And stories.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, the war in Ukraine has resulted in not only millions of refugees who have fled the country in search of international protection, but the displacement of nearly 6 million people still within the borders of Ukraine. And 17.6 million people are in desperate need of humanitarian relief. These numbers are only climbing.

I had the privilege of visiting Ukraine with the Hope Partners team based in Romania and what I saw both broke my heart and inspired my soul.

In the southern part of Ukraine is the beautiful city of Izmail. With a population of 75,000 they have received over 35,000 refugees. This stream of people grows daily.

Because of restrictions on men of fighting age in Ukraine, most of the refugees who have made it to Izmail are women and children. All alone. With no options. Just waiting for this ominous question mark hanging over their lives to end.

They aren’t so different than me. They once had homes, jobs, plans for their future. They have children, they have husbands. Families. The only difference is that bombs fell on their life and shattered their realities. Now their families are scattered across the country, sometimes the continent. Their husbands are often fighting in the war. They flee with little children whose childhood memories are shaped by the sounds of bombs exploding and homes collapsing.

Now these frightened women wonder how they will feed their kids.
How will they keep them warm?

It’s been over a year now, and the clothes they fled with no longer fit the ever-growing bodies of the children. How can they afford new shoes when they can’t even find a job in a city completely overrun with refugees?

I heard stories of people who lost their homes, who lived in underground shelters for too many months, hoping for change but finally accepting their only choice was to flee. I looked in the eyes of moms who have no one left but the small child clinging to their hand. Little children who should be laughing and playing but instead have a tint of shock tainting their eyes.

We passed out new shoes and backpacks full of necessities for the kids. We handed over bags of food for the month. We hugged them, prayed for them and had to watch them walk away with the weight of war still resting on their shoulders. One more broken family unit in a sea of thousands in this city.

There are no makeshift shelters on the streets. No tents. No refugee camps set up in large fields. The reason?

The only thing more beautiful than this city is the people who live here. They welcome these refugees into their homes. Help them find places to stay. The spirit of the Ukrainian people is strong and unified.

Hope Partners has joined a church in its mission to love the Ukrainians and provide refuge to these displaced souls. The people of this church are beautiful and sacrificial. I am humbled to have had a front-row seat to witness the gospel lived out with such love and generosity. They share Christ, they share meals. They invite these newcomers into their church, into their lives. They don’t wonder how long they’ll have to keep doing it or what the cost might be if they open their homes. They love as Jesus loves.

My observation is that the United States as a whole is pretty good at reacting to situations. We see a tragedy or a war, something horrific that rattles us and we donate money and follow the news cycle for a few days until it rotates to something else. Then we tend to forget. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s just that our attention span for suffering people continents away is short.

If it doesn’t affect our daily life, how do we keep remembering?

My hope is that today we commit to remembering. That we stop reacting and start responding. What I have seen in the Ukrainian people and in the Hope Partners team from Romania is not reacting but responding. Their lives are committed to this overwhelming need. They often risk it all to travel much further into Ukraine with flak jackets and helmets and stacks of Bibles. When they stop in villages consisting of remnants of homes and no running water, they unload food and generators and medical supplies and share the love of Jesus. Crowds gather because people are hungry for hope.

The Romanian Hope Partners team and this Ukrainian church partner together to spread hope. They are currently the only organizations bringing relief in from the southern border. They drive for hours. They sacrifice. They risk their lives. One of them is heading into the Ukraine permanently to plant a church. His van that transports him on his mission and runs supplies throughout Ukraine just quit working. But his determination is unwavering.

Their passion is convicting to me. They are steadfast in their mission. Hope Partners has found a beautiful operation to be a part of. The truth is, these faithful Romanians would go with or without us. But our financial help moves mountains in their relief efforts. Resources in their part of the world are limited.

Contrary to what we try to tell ourselves, resources are not limited for us. We may not all be able to jump on a convoy and deliver aid to the hurting around the world, nor would most of us have the courage that I’ve seen in these men who do it without hesitation. But we can be a part of delivering hope.

Please partner with us:

Pray for the hurting people of Ukraine.
Pray for the Hope Partners team as they serve on the frontlines.
Give. The fields are ripe for harvest, and these fearless people are willing to go. Your gift make a difference for the kingdom.

If you’d like to support the purchase of a new van for Pastor Sandu you can do so here. I can attest to the fact that it is a true kingdom investment.

– Stephanie Naimo