C.S. Lewis opened his beloved children’s novel, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” with siblings Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie evacuated from London in 1940. The children were sent away by their parents to the large estate of Professor Digory Kirke, set safely in the English countryside, allowing them to escape the German blitzkrieg falling upon London. Generations of children have enjoyed this story since it was first published in 1950, but, sadly, for many families living in Ukraine, recent events have caused this scene of children fleeing from the threat of war to take on new meaning.
Jon Eide, MTW Ukraine’s country director who has served in Ukraine for 20 years, shared what Christians living in Ukraine are experiencing as Russia aggressively attacks cities throughout Ukraine, including the capital city of Kyiv. “We never expected this and our hearts are broken,” Jon said. “Many are trying to get their wives and children out of the cities while the men are staying behind and being called up to defend the city.”
It has been difficult for many to process as events change quickly and unpredictably. Jon shared about Kyril, a staff member at a Reformed Kyiv seminary. Eight years ago he lived in Donetsk, an industrial city in eastern Ukraine. His wife was pregnant and out buying groceries when she called and asked him what holiday it was because fireworks were going off all over the place. “Come home!” Kyril told her. “Those are missiles, our city is under attack.” The family fled the city that night with a single suitcase on one of the last trains to leave the city. The station was bombed the next day. Now, almost exactly eight years later Kyril, his wife, and children (now ages 8 and 10) have endured another night of bombing, this time in Kyiv, and are again fleeing for their lives.
The crisis has forced many Ukrainian Christians to make heart-wrenching decisions. Ukrainian men aged 18-60 are no longer allowed to leave the country and may be required to defend it. Many men have felt compelled to separate from their families and get their wives and children to safety in the west while they remain behind to defend the country.
Doug Shepherd, an MTW missionary serving in Lviv, Ukraine, with his wife Masha, a Ukrainian national, said on a recent Zoom update, “Many wives are arriving in Lviv from eastern Ukraine and are wrestling with the reality that they just said goodbye to their husbands, not knowing if or when they will see them again.” Doug noted some pastors in eastern Ukraine, as a result of lessons learned in previous conflicts, are staying behind to destroy church documents and member lists, to prevent them from being used against their congregations if they would happen to fall into the wrong hands.
Jon also shared about a pastor in Kyiv whose church office is located in the basement of a four-story apartment building. “When the bombs start falling,” he said, “people in the apartment head to the church office in the basement, which is now a makeshift bomb shelter. Some are weeping, some are sleeping, and others are laughing and telling jokes or drinking tea until the bombing finally stops. Then everyone goes home until the next round of sirens and bombs.”
Since the war and the bombing began, many Ukrainians have fled toward the relative safety of western Ukraine. Jon said that the 340-mile drive from Kyiv to the western city of Lviv, which usually takes six to seven hours, has been taking up 48 hours. Additionally, the drive, or more accurately the wait, to cross the nearby border with Poland is taking up to 72 hours, almost 10 times longer than it would normally. Some are choosing to leave their cars and walk the last 10 miles to the Polish border.
Many are willing to do whatever it takes to get to safety. When train tickets were no longer available, Jon said he knew of six adults who had crammed into a small, four-passenger car to make the long journey west from Kyiv. Those fleeing by car face other challenges too. Ukrainian gas stations restricted sales to four gallons per person and ATMs have restricted withdrawal rates.
But many who were not able to leave in time are now stuck in cities like Kyiv or Kharkiv. “In many eastern Ukrainian cities, there was a window of time when people could escape to the west, but that window has now closed in many places due to missile and tank attacks,” Jon said.
Even under these circumstances, God has provided for the safe travel of many of his people. MTW missionaries David and Jill Martin were able to leave Ukraine and travel safely to Romania thanks to the hospitality and generosity of many people. “We were shown many kindnesses and were offered overnight accommodations in homes and churches along the way,” David said. The Romanian government provided a van to a group that included the Martins. It drove them to a ferry crossing over the Danube River into Romania. The Martins plan to stay in Romania and provide online classes for scattered missionary students from the city of Odesa, Ukraine. Despite growing fears across the country, God’s people continue to demonstrate the peace and kindness of Christ.
Counting the Cost
For many missionaries and pastors in places like Lviv, where many people are seeking refuge, the needs are almost overwhelming. People need food and shelter and have all experienced something traumatic. Doug shared that MTW missionaries are setting up crisis centers in Lviv out of their homes and churches. “Our phones are constantly ringing with new needs. One of our missionary couples has 10 people staying in their home,” said Doug, “There are so many needs and opportunities that will only be met by the church.”
Another pastor serving in Kyiv recently sent an email to friends and family asking for prayer, “For three days we have been hearing heavy shelling blasted not far from our apartment building … We have decided to stay in Kyiv, both as a family and as a church.” He continued, “Along with my congregation, I think we still have a role to play in this tumultuous time. We want to reach out to those who did not flee from Kyiv. We will shelter those who need accommodation, serve the ones needing help, and encourage the scared. And as we do this, we share with them our hope in Christ and in His kingdom. Besides, I feel that my flock needs me here since many of them are elderly and there are some with little children, who just could not evacuate.” Others also mentioned the unique challenge of serving those who are immobile during these times.
How to Help
Many Christians around the world are asking how they can help and support their brothers and sisters in Ukraine. Missionaries have asked for prayer for the wives and children who are impacted by this crisis, separated from their husbands, and for the leaders in Ukraine and around the world with the ability to help this crisis come to an end. Those staying to serve the displaced need prayer as well.
As the team in Lviv does all they can to care for the incoming onslaught of those fleeing from the east, they are in desperate need of funding to feed, clothe, and meet the basic needs of many who are suffering. A crisis fund has been set up to help support their efforts.
As the conflict in Ukraine continues to develop, many of God’s people have responded prayerfully with the words of Psalm 2:8, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.”
This article was originally published by Mission to the World. We have republished it with permission. For more information on how you can give and pray and to read recent updates visit mtw.org/Ukraine-crisis.