By Eddy Ruble
It has been over eight months since Russia launched a full-scale, unprovoked invasion on Ukraine on February 24. In a dash for safety, 7.7 million Ukrainians, mostly women and children, fled to neighboring countries while men stayed to fight and defend their homeland. Up to 14 million more were displaced within the Ukraine as they escaped the frontlines of the war, shifting to safer regions of the country.
People have spent and continue to spend hours, days and weeks in unfinished basements/cellars/bomb shelters. Vladimir Putin’s dubious rationale for the invasion has shifted and changed with time, as the initial “shock and awe” blitz takeover attempt was repelled by Ukrainian forces and the resistance of the population. The Ukrainian military, backed by NATO support, has demonstrated valiant bravery and skill as they have halted Russian progress and have now begun to reclaim some of the territory Russia was occupying in the eastern and southern regions of the country.
Such a brief synopsis doesn’t come close to describing the massive devastation and loss that has been caused by the largest war Europe has experienced since World War II. More than 6,000 civilian Ukrainians have been killed. Cities in the Eastern regions have been decimated and destroyed. Russian missile and drone attacks continue to be directed at civilian targets in the eastern and western regions of the country – knocking out power grids, fuel depots, water supplies and essential infrastructure.
As of Monday, 80 % of Kyiv is without water and electricity; telephone/internet connection is intermittent. The safety of a nuclear power plant is under threat. Russia’s blockade of ports, halting grain and fertilizer exports, has caused food shortages around the world.
Gennady and Mina Podgaisky have served with CBF in Ukraine for the past 20 years. One of their hallmark endeavors has been ministering to the needs of families and foster children through The Village of Hope in Bucha on the outskirts of Kyiv. With local pastors and partners, they helped facilitate building The Village of Hope from the ground up, in collaboration with dozens of mission teams and funding assistance from CBF churches.
The Podgaiskys were in the U.S. when Russia launched the invasion in February. Thankfully, they were out of danger from physical harm; but the tragedy of destruction to the nation and unimaginable hardship and danger to the lives of their friends, neighbors and ministry partners have been devastatingly difficult for the Podgaiskys whose hearts remain with their community in Ukraine.
The Podgaiskys continue to minister to Ukrainians through sending humanitarian and medical supplies and financial, emotional, spiritual and mental support to individuals, churches and ministries in Ukraine and now in several different countries.
In August, Mina and Gennady were able to make a brief trip back to Ukraine to visit their ministry partners and see their home and The Village of Hope center. In the early days of the invasion, Bucha suffered some of the worst atrocities at the hands of the Russian army. At The Village of Hope, one building was completely destroyed and all the other buildings have suffered some type of damage. They no longer have electricity, water or gas. There is no possibility of renovating and rebuilding the center until the hostilities cease.
As the war began, CBF launched a disaster response campaign to raise funds for the Ukraine crisis – for both the immediate needs of refugees fleeing the danger and for the long-term needs of rebuilding and rehabilitation of lives, programs and ministry infrastructure within the country. Nearly all of our CBF field personnel in Europe found themselves engaged with assisting refugees from Ukraine who made their way to neighboring countries.
In Slovakia, Shane and Diane McNary partnered and assisted a Roma church network focused on providing support to Roma refugees, a population that lives on the fringe in the best of times. Eddie Aldape flew to Slovakia to assist with this effort, driving a van and providing a welcoming presence as he picked up refugees arriving at the border and transported them to safety. He filled many gaps with an on-the-ground presence and a pastoral heart, even when there were challenging language barriers and road signs to navigate.
In Romania, Project Ruth quickly adapted their programs and facility space to respond to the housing needs of refugee families. Emeritus field personnel Ralph Stocks spent six weeks volunteering with Project Ruth, a CBF legacy partner where he and Tammy dedicated much of their CBF mission career to help develop the center, providing care and schooling for Roma children. Due to Covid restrictions, Project Ruth had empty dormitory space. With grant funding from CBF, they were able to refit and modify these spaces to host and care for refugee families. To assist those who remained in the Ukraine, they hit on the idea of sending food boxes across the border into Ukraine – enough food to feed a family of four for seven days. They aptly named this project, “4:7 Care Boxes.” As winter is now approaching, CBF has just provided another grant to Project Ruth to prepare and distribute Winter Refugee Kits, to help ensure families have adequate clothing and blankets for the cold winter months ahead.
The global Baptist community of the Baptist World Alliance has raised more than five million dollars from member partners to assist with the Ukrainian crisis and to provide support to the Ukrainian Baptist Union. BWAid and the European Baptist Federation have played a key role in facilitating millions more in funding grants from World Vision, Tearfund, World Relief and other partners as they focus direct relief of food, medical supplies, clothing and psycho-social support to Ukrainian Baptists and the communities they serve.
Months of war and conflict could stretch into years ahead. Once the hostilities cease, it will certainly take years to rebuild the country and heal the emotional and physical scars of the war. The Podgaiskys are committed to assisting the country of their calling in every way they can.
While returning to ministry at The Village of Hope is not possible any time in the near future, Mina and Gennady are assessing other potential areas to which they can temporarily relocate, to provide effective assistance. Their experience, skills and training position them well to engage with psycho-social, spiritual and counseling needs. Physical needs of food, clothing, jobs and rebuilding go hand-in-hand with this psycho-social support. It is daunting to try to comprehend the scale of the needs that lie ahead for Ukrainians, but CBF is committed to journeying this difficult road with them.
We thank you for the donations you have made to date which have allowed us to respond to this ongoing crisis and human need. Just as Jesus broke the five loaves of bread and two fish to begin feeding a massive crowd of over 5,000, we must focus on the tasks placed before us to engage with God’s people in crisis and pray for the miracle of God’s grace to multiply our financial and human resources to be sufficient to meet the needs of the multitudes.
As in the biblical story of the feeding of the 5000, it is God’s people who must step up with their fish and loaves, with their resources, to take care of those in need. The ministries of our field personnel, like the Podgaiskys, the McNarys, and Eddie Aldape, who continue to provide much needed relief work are made possible by of the Offering for Global Missions that supports their long-term presence to minister to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of our Ukrainian sisters and brothers in time of crisis.
We invite you and your church to generously support our field personnel by donating to the Offering for Global Missions by clicking here. You can also continue to support the ongoing relief and long-term rebuilding work in Ukraine by donating to CBF’s Ukraine Relief Fund by clicking here to donate.
Eddy Ruble is a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel based in Malaysia, and serves as CBF’s International Disaster Response Coordinator.