Russia is conducting airstrikes in Western Ukraine, an area near the country’s border with Poland that has been a frequent passageway for Ukrainians seeking escape from the fighting.
Reports this morning (March 11) say Russia bombarded airports in the west, including airstrikes on the Lutsk airfield that killed four Ukrainian servicemen and wounded six, according to The Associated Press.
Residents in two other western cities, Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk, also took shelter after air raid alerts, according to reports.
Thousands of refugees fleeing the war have passed through Lviv, located just 43 miles from the country’s border with Poland, since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
In a video posted March 9, Viktor Dubovenko, UBTS chaplain and director of the international mission program, said two weeks ago, he was preparing students for missions trips to Central Asia, Africa and other countries. Today, he is serving those displaced by the Russian attacks, counseling more than 100 people from different parts of Ukraine as they pass through Lviv.
‘Pain, helplessness and despair’
“We see a lot of pain, helplessness and despair,” he said. “That’s why we want to show God’s love for these people.”
He told of a woman who expressed her gratitude for the help she received. She wanted to learn more about God and to find a church when she settled in a new country.
“That’s why we are here — to direct people’s eyes to Jesus. Only God can give people confidence and hope. We are only instruments in His hands.”
Classes at UBTS are suspended indefinitely as staff members and volunteers provide food, shelter, medical care, clothing and transportation to hundreds of refugees who pass daily through Lviv. The seminary also strives to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of the refugees.
Oleksandr Savych, a member of the UBTS Emergency Response Team and director of the UBTS pastoral leadership program, shared the story of a young man who came alone to Lviv. A Christian family hosted him and Savych had an opportunity to talk to him.
“He had many questions, but … at this time, the words are not that important. The acts, what you do for the people, are most important,” Savych said. “I prayed for him, for God’s blessing, protection and leading in his life.
‘Thank you for your kindness’
“After the prayer, he looked at me. He was crying, and he said, ‘I didn’t believe people could be good. … Thank you for your kindness and for your help.”
Often, all the needs of the refugee families collide, as Olenka Maister, assistant director of the seminary’s international mission program and a head coach in the UBTS Institute for Leadership & Coaching, learned recently.
She shared the story of a mother and son who came to the seminary. The boy needed medical care, but when Maister offered to take him to the hospital, the mother began to cry. Maister learned that two years ago, the woman’s younger son had died.
“She was asking many questions, but the main one was, ‘Will he be OK?’”
The boy needed surgery, and “God gave us an amazing doctor who did the surgery and didn’t ask for any payment,” Maister said. “If they had come later or left the seminary earlier, the consequences could be extremely sad. We call it a miracle. God is always on time.” (Watch daily video updates from UBTS here.)
Most of the refugees coming through the seminary are women and children, since men are being stopped at the border and many are choosing to defend their homes and homeland.
All four UBTS facilities are now being used to provide humanitarian aid, and the seminary reports that 75 staff members and volunteers organized into seven working groups are serving around the clock since refugees are arriving at all hours of the day and night. UBTS staff members also are hosting refugee families in their homes.
Those who come through are assessed for medical needs. Hot meals are served, and each night 186 beds have been filled.
Most families stay one or two days before heading out, the seminary reported, and new people arrive daily. The seminary has seen a daily increase in the number of refugees passing through and expects the number to increase as the war continues.
In a conversation with David George, president of WMU Foundation, and David Iannacone of the Ukraine Partnership Foundation, UBTS President Yaroslav Pyzh said funds are the most needed because the seminary must purchase groceries, medicine and other supplies. (Read about WMU Foundation’s gifts to aid refugees here.)
“Truckloads of aid are going to a central hub and the government decides where it goes,” Pyzh said. “Funds serve us best.”
Pyzh said he plans to stay in Ukraine and help people.
“This is my home, and these are my people,” he said. “I don’t know how long God will give us, but I’m trying to do everything I can possibly do to help.”
Privilege to serve
It’s a privilege to serve those in need, Pyzh added, and “as always, God is blessing every single thing. He’s multiplying everything by a hundredfold.”
It’s also a great blessing to serve, he said.
“There is no more blessing than to live out what you actually preach,” he said. “We are happy. Yes, we are frightened. Yes, we live in fear, … in uncertainty. But we are happy because we are finding ourselves God’s hands and God’s instrument in serving other people.”
The seminary wants to serve the people God sends, Savych said.
“Our small acts of kindness can tremendously impact someone’s life,” he added, and “God will use this to change many lives in the future.”
Aid groups on the ground
Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian humanitarian relief organization, is operating an emergency field hospital in an underground parking garage in Lviv to provide medical aid to those besieged in escalating Russian attacks.
Close to 100 medical and logistical workers are in Ukraine, Poland, Romania and Moldova, with more on the way, the organization reported.
Medical personnel began treating wounded Ukrainians at a triage clinic outside Lviv’s train station March 8, and the field hospital began accepting patients March 9.
Israel also has dispatched an emergency field hospital to Lviv and will work cooperatively with Samaritan’s Purse, officials said.
Samaritan’s Purse has also distributed food, drinking water, hygiene kits and winter clothing to thousands of refugees crossing the border. Additional personnel, medical supplies and blue plastic tarp, which the organization distributes to people to cover windows that have been blown out, were being shipped as well.
Once refugees cross the borders of Ukraine into countries like Poland, Moldova and Romania, aid organizations are helping them with food, shelter and other needs.
IMB meeting needs of refugees
International Mission Board representatives are active in Poland, helping refugees who arrive there.
“It’s been amazing to see how God has used International Mission Board workers with significant language skills and cultural understanding to minister to these refugees right now,” said Russell Archer, an IMB leader serving in Europe.
Archer has witnessed God’s people leading relief efforts.
“Other groups and even local governments are struggling to come up with a plan and find people who can communicate with the refugees, and national Baptist churches and our people are already meeting them at train stations and bus stops as they arrive and jumping right into ministry. Truly, God is at work,” Archer told Baptist Press.
Send Relief President Bryant Wright says many of those needing help are coming with, at most, a suitcase. Some are only escaping with the clothes they have on, with more refugees on the way.
“Since the invasion, we have and will continue to expand our efforts within the region. We’re thankful for the financial support and encourage everyone to keep praying for the people of Ukraine as they look for safety and help,” said Wright.
IMB President Paul Chitwood has been in the region and talked to a number of Ukrainians who have been displaced and Polish Christians who have been come to their aid.
In a video message, Chitwood thanked those who have given to the effort. “Because of your giving through a network of partners inside of Ukraine, and all around Ukraine, we were able to respond quickly. We will continue to respond quickly.”
Send Relief is providing food, shelter, basic but critical supplies, and most importantly, the hope of the gospel, Wright said.
Mission Eurasia, a Christian humanitarian aid organization whose field ministries headquarters are located in Irpin, Ukraine (near Kyiv), reports that it has distributed more than 3,000 food packages to families and has helped establish three refugee assistance centers — two in Poland and one in Moldova.
In partnership with churches, Mission Eurasia volunteers are picking up refugees at the border, providing temporary shelter, food and assistance with finding long-term housing. On March 5, 1,000 refugees were assisted, and on March 6 another 1,200 refugees were assisted. In addition to practical relief assistance and housing, volunteers are providing counseling, copies of Scripture and pastoral care.
“The impact of this outreach to people who are frightened and fleeing for their lives cannot be overstated,” said Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia. “We are truly the arms and legs of Jesus, sharing food, love, shelter and hope with people who are in despair.”
How to give
Check with your church, association or state Baptist convention to find out how they are contributing to relief work in Ukraine. To contact your state convention for more information, click here. Or, for more information about Send Relief, can click here.