When conflict erupted in Ukraine, the most vulnerable were forced to consider fleeing for safety. Many of the three million who have sought shelter outside of the country so far are mothers with children. Some of those mothers had plans for where to go—family they could visit or friends with space to share—but others are relying on the kindness of strangers across borders. In fleeing war, these millions have become refugees.
A group of seven Ukrainians, all Nazarene church members, found such kindness in the city of Poznań, Poland. Through the care of pastors and missionaries who helped coordinate a path across the border, this group of seven found their way to safety. Ultimately, they connected with workers at a ministry called Sweet Surrender. Originally designed as a Nazarene-run coffee shop in Poznań, the space was quickly converted into a refugee resource center.
Traveling together, three women and four children sought a safe passage to Poland. Nataliya* traveled with her sons, ages 12 and 4. Olena traveled with her daughter, age 9, and son, age 8. Accompanying them was Sofiy, a young adult. All seven traveled from Kozyatyn, a town about two hours west of Kyiv. Both mothers had to leave behind their husbands, and Sofiy had to leave behind her elderly mother who was unable to travel.
For this seven, leaving Ukraine meant trusting that a network of Nazarenes would carefully guide their way. Their pastor first drove them to the Ukrainian city of Lviv to catch a train to Poland. Once across the border and safe in Przemyśl, the group met Nazarene missionaries Jay and Teanna Sunberg, who fed them and coordinated the next leg of their trip.
When their train pulled into Poznań, Nazarene missionaries Hayley and Andrew Tarrant met the group, holding signs that said “Nazarene” in Ukrainian. A final 10-minute trip brought the seven to temporary lodging at a partner organization, Fundacja Pomocy Wzajemnej Barka (Barka). There they found showers, food, and soft beds. Since their arrival, more Ukrainians have found similar shelter at Barka.
In a recent post, Hayley Tarrant shared a bit of what goes through the minds of refugees like those in this first group. “Can you imagine fleeing your country/your home, leaving behind your husband, your pets, your career, your possessions,” she asks. “Then crossing a border into a country that you’ve never been to, where you don’t speak the language, where you get a stamp in your passport that labels you a refugee of war, where you then take two long train journeys with your kids on your lap, arriving in a station you have never been to or heard of, waiting for strangers to pick you up, getting into their cars, arriving at a big building in the middle of the night, having no idea where you are going next or how you will earn money, or where you will find a doctor to treat your [child], or knowing when you will finally live safely in your own apartment in this new city?”
Even while facing these many uncertainties, Ukrainians who have fled are settling in and preparing to live as displaced refugees. Four of the original seven have found free lodging with a kind neighbor in Poznań, giving the adults time to find work that will allow them to rent their own flat. Staff at Sweet Surrender have downloaded children’s books in the Ukrainian language so the kids can continue to practice reading. They have also transformed a space inside the former coffee shop into a safe room for children to meet together, learn, grow, and process the trauma they are experiencing.
Because of the generous donations of Nazarenes around the world and the work of the volunteers at NCM Poznań, the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 are being lived out on a daily basis: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in ....”
*Names are changed for protection.
Learn more about how countries near Ukraine are responding to the needs of refugees in their communities, and donate to help: ncm.org/ukraine-crisis
Photos: Nazarene Compassionate Ministries - Ukrainian Help in Poznań, Poland