Dark days, tenuous peace in Ukraine

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Ukraine (MNN) — One of the conditions of a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine is that Ukraine withdraws its weapons from the eastern front line.

However, Ukraine’s military said it couldn’t because pro-Russian separatists who advanced last week were still attacking its positions. Since the “truce” went into effect last week, fighting has killed more than 5,600 people. Although the deal looks stillborn, the deals’ backers hope something can be salvaged.

Fearing vulnerability with pro-Russian forces already inside its borders, Ukraine doesn’t want to leave the welcome mat out for a Russian advance. Although military objectives advance and towns fall, nobody’s really “winning.” Eric Mock, Vice President of Ministry Operations at Slavic Gospel Association, says, “It really is a conflict that has hurt both countries. The ruble has fallen dramatically against the dollar. Now, with the truce not holding as well as it should, the hryvnia is falling apart, as well.”

The violence keeps pushing people out. As each area falls to the rebels, it’s preceded by waves of refugees. “What we’re seeing is literally an influx of orphan children into orphanages. We’re seeing a difficulty for people to put food on the table. In many cases, the primary problem is refugees.”

Churches are opening their doors, too. “Just in the northern part of Kiev, [there are] so many refugees at a church that all their Sunday school rooms were used to house families, as well as during the week in the sanctuary. Many of them were families with young children. They had no way to provide diapers for them. So, we’re leaving funds to even have these children equipped with diapers.”

Funds come by way of the Crisis Evangelism Fund. $15 can help provide a food pack, which can contain items such as flour, cooking oil, pasta, and other staples, plus Christian literature. With the money SGA shares, churches in strategic locations are able to serve as staging venues for food distribution to the needy regions.

For example, one missionary pastor is working with 45 families scattered throughout 11 villages, many of them holed up in abandoned homes. Mock says, “We help with assistance for ten tons of heating coal, ten cubic meters of wood, medication every month, and food for these families.” However, “Some of this is being done actually in the conflict zone, as we can get people in there. Recently, that’s slowed down because the border–the battle line–has really been closed down by the government, so it’s nearly impossible to get aid into the conflict zone.”

(Photo courtesy Slavic Gospel Association)

(Photo courtesy Slavic Gospel Association)

But even that is a fluid situation, says Mock. “As the army retreated to Artemivsk, churches had to change distribution for humanitarian aid. Basically, from location to location, they’re trying to set up a distribution center for aid to refugees. But the conflict zone keeps expanding, and that means their distribution gets that much more difficult in those regions.”

Mock goes on to say there’s been a steady stream of refugees into places like Zaporozhye, Kharkov, and even now with some conflict, in Mariupol, disrupting their distribution network. Since the Ukraine side is too dangerous, their partners have found another way in to help. “We’re now helping Russian churches on the border who are getting aid into the conflict zone through Russian conduits–everything we can do to get Bibles, tracts, and food to people who are displaced, as well as people who are in the conflict zone.”

Supplies for Ukrainian refugges. (SGA Photo)

Supplies for Ukrainian refugees. (SGA Photo)

Here’s the part you don’t expect. It looks like the church of Antioch in many of these areas. Distressed families and individuals hear the life-changing Gospel and experience the love of Christ–the only true hope for ultimate peace and reconciliation. Hope changes things in a big way.

Mock says one pastor saw half of his congregation leave. He relocated his family to northern Kiev, leaving a deacon at the church. Fighting worsened, and the pastor couldn’t get back to his home church. But what happened next was nothing short of miraculous. Mock explains, “Those looking for answers in the conflict zone have come, and his church is now back up to the full size of the congregation it was before, with new believers.” Plus, “People that left the church in Western Ukraine are now active in ministry where people were praying for people to be raised up.”

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