Tracking the UCC Ukraine response
by Peter Makari
Throughout our trip, we have experienced a tremendous amount of gratitude. Partners, displaced Ukrainians, and local people in every country and place have all expressed to us how grateful they are to our churches and members for the support we have offered to meet their needs. And we have been humbled by the expression of thankfulness for our mere presence, taking the time to come this far to meet them in person. That has been true in every circumstance, including today.
Traveling from Cişinău, the capital of Moldova where we are staying, we went north to the second city of the country, Bălţi with Steve Weaver and our Church World Service hosts. Ukrainians have come here because it is a city with more opportunities, and because Russian is spoken here. In Bălţi, we were met by Bartosz, a CWS staff person who coordinates the “Healthy Communities” center and program. The second floor operation is a bustling distribution center where necessary items are available for Ukrainians to choose what they need: clothes and shoes, food supplies, diapers, and so much more. 160 families come every week.
But the main focus is to serve as a place of interaction, where the real circumstances and needs of people are met through conversation. Bartosz told us, “We give what we have; it is the atmosphere that matters.” While talking with Bartosz and others, including Natalia, a Ukrainian refugee, we repeatedly heard expressions of gratitude for support, and that we took the time to come.
We then visited the Anastasia Center which is a children’s center where Liliana, a Moldovan teacher, showed us and described what is offered under the patronage of the Metropolitan of Bessarabia Orthodox Church. The Center is a two-story container facility where Ukrainian children come every morning for lessons and activities. They can connect to classes in Ukraine and continue their schooling from a distance, and stay on course. In the afternoon, they are joined by Moldovan children and they enjoy each other’s company. The lower level class is for younger children and the upper level for older youth, where they have a teacher and a psychologist, who has made a difference. They even have a master skateboarding class! But age didn’t matter when they had a break and everyone went outside for a snowball fight in the new snow that was falling. Liliana told us that they hope this Center will become a model in the community. Joined by the local priest, they hope the war will end soon, but they know that local poverty will not. Again, we experienced grateful people trying to make a difference.
From Bălţi, we went on to Mihăileni. There we were met by Oleg Rotari, director of CWS partner Ormax, a center for the elderly, and the Mihăileni’s mayor. They showed us an innovative alternative energy system they have installed at their multifunctional elder care center that will free up significant resources to enhance programs. Since last year, 20 Ukrainians have been here long-term, but more than 170 have passed through, perhaps staying only a few days or a week. The whole town is made up of 4200 people.
The Center provides a place to enjoy each other’s company, as well as a place for a hot shower and medical assistance, and has provided chickens and pigs to families hosting Ukrainian refugees, so that they could have eggs and meat. They aim to offer an “impactful gesture of assistance.” From the moment we arrived, we were met withgratitude. When we stepped out of the van, Oleg said to us, “Thank you for your visit. We are glad to see you!” During our meeting, the mayor expressed thanks to us and to the people of the U.S., for offering assistance. And we were hosted to a home-made lunch that started with a hot bowl of delicious soup, as another expression of thanks.
During our day, we were overwhelmed by the expressions of appreciation to the UCC for our support of people and programs. It was easy to forget the fragility of life circumstances that brought Ukrainians to these cities and towns in Moldova. One day they were living a familiar life at home, and another day, they were uprooted. But we could not forget that reality, for it was right in front of us. And we have been further reminded of the tenuousness of life, as we followed news of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria this week. Whether disrupted by human made disasters such as war, or natural calamities like earthquakes, today we saw both fragility and gratitude.
Peter Makari, Global Ministries Executive for the Middle East and Europe, is part of a four-person United Church of Christ delegation meeting with global partners in Europe to see how UCC gifts are being used to help the people of Ukraine.