Tracking the UCC Ukraine response
by Rev. Kent Siladi
Feb. 8, 2023 –Our last day together
On our last day together our hosts with Church World Service invited us to meet with advocates for Ukrainian refugees who are providing food, psychosocial resources and reaching out with intentionality to the Roma community.
The Roma refugees face a particularly difficult time in Moldova. The Roma people are an ethnic group of traditionally nomadic people. They have faced discrimination for a very long time. In Moldova they have been segregated in refugee centers. We met with an Ion Bucur, an attorney who is working to promote the rights of Roma people in Moldova and with Elena Sirbu, the executive director of ROMNI working with mediators across Moldova with Roma refugees.
We learned that many Roma refugees do not know their rights and many face discrimination since some do not read or write. 60% of the Roma people are in rural areas with little access to resources. They often face challenges when trying to find health care or access work since discrimination toward the Roma people is a historic practice. We met with Igor Belei, the Executive Director of Diaconia where Church World Service has been investing a lot of their resources.
The CWS appeal supported several emergency projects in the opening weeks of the war. We saw their work in Balti with the Education Center and we visited their international food bank.
Moldova is one of the poorest countries in the region and the poverty level has increased over time. Both the Moldovan population and the Ukrainian refugees have great needs for basic resources. Moldova’s population has diminished by a million people in the last 10 years. It is not a country that we in the U.S. know much about if anything at all. It would be easy for this corner of the world to be forgotten, a small country of mostly poor people. It has the greatest percentage of decline in the world where the country is not at war.
Diaconia has served Moldovans and now Ukrainian refugees since 2001. When refugees started to flood from Ukraine through the Moldovan border, Belei said, “The response of solidarity does not depend on how rich or poor you are. We did not ask ourselves, ‘what will we eat tomorrow?’ – we needed to feed and take care of our neighbors.”
At the food bank we were able to see the impressive warehouse of food and other items for the refugee community. Church World Service purchased a forklift for the warehouse which allowed them to utilize their storage space to full capacity. More capacity, more food, more hungry people were fed because of this gift.
At our meeting with Memoria we met with Andriana Zaslavet who shared with us the work that Memoria does with Ukrainian women and children. They are an 11 person team that has provided medical and psychological assistance to 2700 refugees and offered short term assistance to 3000. Their staff is currently working with 200 refugees providing mental health resources. The refugee community trusts this center and they provide Psychosocial “first aid” through their caring staff.
As our day ended, we gave thanks for our CWS hosts, Andrew Blakeley and Steve Weaver who accompanied us on the road as we met with partners and as we gathered so many stories of how our partners respond to human need for the often-forgotten innocent victims of war. Our team will be debriefing and looking for ways to share what we have heard and learned in the days ahead.
The Rev. Kent Siladi, Director of Philanthropy, 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.