THE FOLLOWING IS AN UPDATE BY SABINE AND ANDREAS FROM KAVOD MINISTRIES ABOUT THEIR ONGOING WORK IN UKRAINE. CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE AND SUPPORT THEM.
On Sunday 2nd October we left on our fourth trip to Ukraine.
By this stage these journeys have almost become routine. Andreas is now at the point that, once we have crossed the Hungary-Ukraine border, he almost feels like he is coming ‘home’. These border crossings can still be quite tense though. You never know how long they are going to take or what will be searched through and checked this time. But so far everything has gone turned out alright.
The first stage of the trip from Mukachevo to Ivano Frankivsk, where this time we stayed the night with a friend, passes through the foothills of the Carpathians, so it’s lovely countryside. Everywhere people are at the side of the road, selling delicious mushrooms they’ve gathered in the woods.
We reached Kyiv on the Monday. The journey is so familiar now that we are -almost- ready to switch of our navigator. New four lane roads run dead straight for miles on end. But there are other kinds of road too. If you do decide to put the road map to one side and follow what the navigator tells you, then you end up on -as we all know – the ‘most direct route’, and this can mean landing on very small, appallingly maintained tar-surfaced roads, or on stretches of gravel which are generally a little better. We have covered quite a few kilometers on these, at a much reduced speed.
On the first day in Kyiv we had the privilege of speaking to students at the theological seminary. These young people will play a role in the future of the country and so it was appropriate that Andreas spoke to them about anger – anger towards the the instigator of this war, and learning how to deal with that anger as God wants us to.
After meeting these students, we travelled on to Velika Dymerka, a small town of around five thousand people which had been occupied in February and March. There we had two open air meetings. (Throughout our stay the autumn weather was consistently lovely.)
The following day we were in Irpin, where we were able to speak to a large number of people, this time indoors, in a church. Some of them were refugees from other parts of the country
Near Bucha we visited a mental health facility. We met some soldiers there, who impressed us greatly. Many of them had been involved in fighting against Russia since 2014. It is often overlooked that the fighting actually began eight years ago, not just this year.
After that, together with our translator Alla, we moved on to Kozelets. It was our third visit we have been there and so were greeted almost like old friends. The brand new church building is already too small for all the congregation and so between 9 o’clock and 1 o’clock we were involved in three separate services attended by a total of 500 people.
Andreas preached, and Sabine talked briefly about trauma and post-traumatic stress before introducing the program of four exercises designed to regulate stress and help with panic attacks. These people have no opportunity at all during this war to get proper therapy, and even though these exercises are not as powerful as that would be, they still offer valuable, direct help in dealing with fear.
First of all there is a breathing exercise which is known to reduce blood pressure levels. The second exercise, derived by Sabine’s colleague
Dr.Ewa Katarzyna Budna from Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, has a soothing effect on the psyche. Then there is the ‘safe’ exercise, in which every evening all worries and fears are locked up in an imaginary ‘safe’, hopefully making it easier to get a good night’s sleep. Finally we encourage everyone just to be there for each other and to show this in a simple way – by embracing each other. Hugs have a direct effect on the body and are simply good of you!
At the mention of trauma, many people began to nod their understanding. Some began to cry. Our main message is: You are not a victim, you are a survivor! Fear will not rule over you! Both this message and the exercises get through to the audience. One older lady whom we met four months ago, stood up to say something. At that time her son had just been killed by the Russians and she had been utterly distraught. Now she told everyone that since she had learned how to do the exercises, they had often helped her so that she was no longer in such a bad state. After each one of our talks, packets of food were distributed.
On Monday 10th October, the war came closer to us than it had ever been. Attacks were launched on cities across Ukraine. Explosions occured close to where we were staying.
Nevertheless, the next day we decided to continue on to Kharkiv. We were sure this was the right thing to do. There we worked together with a pastor and his team of co-workers. Their church has been demonstrating practical love by supplying humanitarian support to 12000 people each month. A truck with 20 tons of aid had just arrived from Slovakia. The building is used both as a warehouse and accommodation – until recently also for soldiers stationed in the town. Two weeks previously the front line had been only 5 kilometers away from the city.
We came across evidence of this same practical love in all sorts of places. We stayed with Tetiana, an amazing woman who until three weeks before had hosted soldiers – as well as 20 refugees who had lost their own homes. From Kharkiv we went with some of the co-workers of the church to Kupyansk and its surrounding villages, a trip of around 100 km, into an area very close to the front. We carried out our program there too and distributed aid. All the time we could hear explosions. We were obviously right in the middle of a war.
In our last night in Kharkiv, too, there were several missile strikes. Somehow people have found a way to keep on with normal life despite them.
Back in Kyiv we were involved in two further outreaches led by Pastor Igor’s church. As we have mentioned, Pastor Igor is our main contact in Ukraine. He has become a real friend.
So how can we sum up this two week trip? Much to our own surprise, we reached out to around 1400 people. We hope we were able to give them lasting help. We keep thinking about something one of our Ukrainian women friends wrote to us:
“May the eyes of the people you have helped inspire you to continue to do what you do.”
What are the next steps? we are planning another trip for December. We are looking forward to celebrating Christmas and New Year with our friends there.