Two years after invasion, needs of displaced Ukrainians continue as UCC keeps appeal going

A virtual interfaith vigil for peace was held Feb. 23, a day before the two-year anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military, which first entered Crimea in 2014.

Organized by the Episcopal Public Policy Network, in partnership with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the livestreamed vigil featured interfaith leaders, including the Rev. Michael Neuroth, director of the UCC’s Office of Public Policy and Advocacy in Washington, D.C.  

Neuroth’s responsive prayer wove together cries of lament with the harsh statistics of the war: 10,000 killed, nearly 20,000 wounded, 4 million people internally displaced and nearly 15 million in need of humanitarian assistance.

He closed his prayer with a call for forgiveness “for our own lack of attention and concern for the horror of this and all war.”

Giving going strong

Mainstream media interest in Ukraine may be fading along with the blue and yellow Ukrainian flags that were first hung by U.S. residents in support of its overseas siblings, but the outpouring of support — and financial gifts — to the UCC’s appeal for Ukraine, issued shortly after the start of the war, continues. In 2023, $294,560 was raised, bringing the total since the appeal began on Feb. 26, 2022, to $3,343,935.

“Thanks to the generosity from across the church, the United Church of Christ will continue to support partners and those directly affected by the war for many years to come,” said the Rev. Josh Baird, UCC chief of staff, who led the Global H.O.P.E. team during the appeal’s launch. “Partners have expanded their work to more communities across Ukraine, so recent support continues to provide for emergency needs as lives are freshly upended.”

A 2023 spring Ukraine appeal distribution report showed how partners were helped by the generosity of UCC donors. Among them was Church World Service (CWS), through partnership with ACT Alliance, for $100,000. According to the report, CWS is working in Moldova with local partners, providing food, hygiene, and medical supplies, as well as educational support and trauma care. Other recipients of the appeal money were the Hungarian Reformed Church Aid and Hungarian Interchurch Aid, also through ACT Alliance, each receiving $100,000.

In the United States, work continues as UCC congregations help with the influx of Ukrainian refugees settling in communities across the country. According to the Department of Homeland Security, nearly half a million Ukrainian refugees have come to the United States.

“Individuals and families displaced from Ukraine are being supported as they move from emergency to transitional and even long-term housing, train for new work opportunities, go to school, and learn the language of the community that has received them,” said Baird.

ESL for Ukrainians in Ohio

A sign in Lakewood Congregational Church’s entryway directs Ukrainian ESL students. Photo courtesy of Lakewood Congregational Church.

Lakewood Congregational Church in Lakewood, Ohio, is one such community walking alongside its Ukrainian neighbors. Last summer, the congregation was inspired to offer an English as a second language (ESL) program specifically for Ukrainians.

Led by members Ron and Charlotte Petrie, the 12-week semester was well received, welcoming 15 students in the intermediate class and 10 in the beginner class. With funding from a Global H.O.P.E. grant, the congregation was able to provide childcare for the students as well as hire a Ukrainian-speaking teacher.

“Having a paid teacher who knew the language was a big help in our ESL program,” said Ron Petrie.

Petrie, though, did add that the ESL program did come with a learning curve. As the weeks progressed, student attendance declined to an average of 10 each week due to the lack of adequate transportation to the church. According to Petrie, most of the Ukrainian population is not in the Lakewood neighborhood, but located miles away in Parma, Ohio.

“We didn’t realize that might be a problem for the students. But we have learned from that and are considering ways to continue the ESL program by perhaps partnering with an organization closer to Parma,” said Petrie.

Supporting refugees in Iowa

Diane Birt knows very well the transportation woes of Ukrainian refugees.

“Here in Ames, Iowa, if these families are to get good jobs, they will need to have a car to drive to the locations,” she said.

The current retiree is hosting the son of a Ukrainian refugee, an arrangement Ames United Church of Christ recently sponsored with the help of a Global H.O.P.E. grant made possible through the monies given to the UCC Ukrainian appeal.

“It often happens that there are other family members to take in. The son is hoping to soon join his father and get their own apartment,” said Birt.

The family has been one of many displaced families that have come through Ames Interfaith Refugee Alliance, an organization which was inspired back in 2016 by the social justice and outreach team of Ames UCC. Today, more than 20 congregations are involved in the alliance, says Birt. In the past, the alliance has welcomed families from Syria and Afghanistan.

“The first Ukrainians came to Iowa in May 2022,” she said. “We have now brought 49 Ukrainians to Ames.”

A recorded workshop on UCC grants for refugee and migrant programs is available on the UCC’s YouTube channel.

And each of those individuals have expenses to cover, Birt says. “The UCC funds have helped up with the costs that are involved from covering or subsiding housing to paying for utilities and groceries to helping with the costs of transportation, driver’s license, etc.”

There are also unexpected expenses that come up as well. “One refugee has a dental emergency that needed to be covered that we just couldn’t ignore,” said Birt.

While seeking grants and continuing to fundraise to help provide refugees with the necessities, Birt says that the work is truly collaborative for the church and its community.

“You can’t do this work alone,” she said.

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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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