By Caleb Mynatt
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, the world watched in terror as missiles flew over the border and into Ukrainian cities. As we watched the destruction unfold on our televisions on that Thursday night, we wondered what this action meant and what would happen next. For the people in Ukraine, all they knew was they had to run.
According to the International Organization for Migration, more than 3 million people have fled Ukraine as of March 15. Nearly all are heading west and, because of martial law banning men aged 18 to 60 from leaving Ukraine, nearly all are women and children. Often, with little more than a backpack and the clothes on their backs, they are looking for food, shelter and support in Poland and Romania, with the hopes of moving even further west.
In Romania’s capital of Bucharest, Project Ruth, one of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s oldest ministry partners (referred to as a “legacy partner”), has stepped up to help Ukrainian refugees at a time they need it most. What is typically a school that provides education to those affected by poverty has been transformed into a shelter to house 70 refugees from the war. It has become a huge undertaking, as well as something Project Ruth, which typically houses groups of around 20 volunteers, never envisioned having to do.
“Who would have thought that in 2022 we would see a big country invade its neighbor with war,” said Mihail Ciopasiu, executive director of Project Ruth. “We see it in the Middle East and think it’s something that only happens far from us. Now it’s happening in Ukraine, which borders Romania.”
This temporary shift in ministerial focus has certainly not been easy, but needed to be done. It has required money for new appliances like washing machines and refrigerators, volunteers to convert classrooms into bedrooms, as well as copious amounts of planning to find the best way to provide for the Ukrainian refugees.
All of the work has been done entirely on the fly; but it has produced a working shelter that provides three hot meals a day, a place to shower and, thanks to its location in Romania’s capital, access to any embassy for any country where the Ukrainian refugees would like to go.
“This is not our ministry in terms of vision or strategy planning. This is all very new to us,” explained Ciopasiu. “This is just a situation where we thought that if we had a building to host refugees, then we should do that. We should do it to show them that we love them just as God loves us.”
This ministry goes beyond housing, also providing transportation as well. Through a network of partner churches across the country, Ciopasiu, using WhatsApp, quickly finds a volunteer to transport refugees entering the Ukraine-Romania border. Once the families clear customs, they are almost immediately greeted by a car or van that can take them somewhere to stay or a train station that will take them to Bucharest. Ciopasiu is very proud of what the network can do, taking care of refugees and providing support every step of their journey.
“When you think about it, we as the church are doing better than AirBnB and Uber combined,” said Ciopasiu. “In a matter of 15 minutes, I can send a text and have a van that holds 15 people at customs to pick up a family and take them to a place that they can stay. We can do it quickly, and it’s all free.”
Although it is very out-of-the-scope of what Project Ruth typically does, they have taken on this new ministry while maintaining regular operations. Ciopasiu says the extra work has been worth it. More than ever, Ukraine’s most vulnerable population need somewhere they can go and someone on whom they can rely. According to Ciopasiu, it’s all a part of being the hands and feet of Christ that God calls on us all to be.
“I think that for the church here in Romania and Poland, we have the best opportunity in the last 50 years to present the Gospel so powerfully through deeds,” emphasized Ciopasiu.
But unfortunately, there are plenty of bad actors at play amid the chaos of this crisis. Romania, according to the United Nation’s Office of Drugs and Crime, has the highest rate of sex trafficking in all of Europe. Given how vulnerable these women and children are after a long journey and their wait to get into Romania, there is a pressing need for immediate help and protection to avoid the potential of being kidnapped. It’s a huge crisis that is unfolding, as well as something an outsider looking in may not be cognizant of.
“Pray for the protection of these mothers and children,” said Ciopasiu. “Pray for all of us to have the patience to solve these problems. People are desperate; imagine the level of trust that we’ve gained because of this crisis. That’s why we must be alert to people who don’t deserve that trust.”
Thanks to the funding from Cooperative Baptist Fellowship partners and other donors from around the world, Project Ruth anticipates being able to keep providing the same level of support for a few more months. The hope is that the conflict in Ukraine will end by then; but there is no way to be certain. And even once the conflict ends, there will still be plenty of work to be done, something that Project Ruth intends to assist with in any way possible.
“Even if the war were to end tomorrow, Ukraine will still need to be rebuilt. There is still lots of work to be done now, and with more work needing to be done in the long term,” said Ciopasiu. “We will get into Ukraine to help whenever possible to see how we can help. For now, we will do everything we can to help people get out.”
Ciopasiu said to expand its refugee capacity, Project Ruth will need a new washer/dryer unit to be installed at the Ruth School building. They are trying to furnish two apartments in its facility to house up to 16 guests and look to purchase basic kitchen appliances including refrigerators and an oven and stovetop. Their utility costs have also increased significantly as Romania is experiencing an energy crisis with tripling rates. Additional costs include transportation expenses for ubers, taxis and gasoline, where prices are now more than $9 a gallon.
Ciopasiu maintains they will find a way to continue to help the most vulnerable until this crisis comes to an end. With even more work ahead, Ciopasiu is grateful to have partners like CBF to assist them through this extremely complicated time. Although it is hard for those of us half a world away to make a direct impact, Ciopasiu hopes that he, his network of churches and Project Ruth can continue to do the work we help empower them to do.
“Project Ruth is overwhelmed by the love, commitment and ongoing support from CBF,” said Ciopasiu. “For now, we just need prayer and financial support.”
“Project Ruth has been a beacon of hope and love for 30 years,” said Ellen Sechrest, manager of Global Missions engagement for CBF. “I’ve witnessed their incredible work firsthand. Opening the dorm space to Ukrainian refugees only affirms even more my support and love for Project Ruth.”
The CBF Ukraine Relief Fund has allocated $25,000 to support Project Ruth, a CBF Legacy Partner ministry, which will assist in set up for housing refugees with the purchase of needed appliances for the housing center including washing machines, refrigerators and stoves. These relief funds will contribute to Project Ruth’s budget for numerous expenses including food, utilities, medical care, fuel and more.
Nearly 975 Cooperative Baptist individuals, churches, partners and state and regional organizations have given more than $400,000 to CBF’s Ukraine Relief Fund in the month since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And those gifts are already making an impact in Ukraine and across Europe as CBF field personnel and ministry partners in the region help provide safety, shelter and Christ’s love to some of the nearly 3.7 million refugees. These gifts and others that continue to be given will be used to provide relief to those served by CBF field personnel and ministry partners as Ukrainians flee the invasion of their country into other nations.
Please give generously to the CBF Ukraine Relief Fund at www.cbf.net/ukraine.