Ukraine Front Line Report from Tom Albinson, Founder and President of International Association For Refugees (IAFR) based in Richfield, MN.

Tom travelled to Poland, Slovakia and Ukraine from March 21 – 28, 2022 and shared an update with Arrive Ministries staff.

 

A church in eastern Poland welcoming and helping refugees. ©T.Albinson/IAFR

I went because I knew people in the region from my Bible Smuggling days decades ago, I asked these friends and partners “What are the needs, what’s going on?”


these massive pivots we have witnessed have been breathtaking


I was amazed to see how Europe and the churches in Ukraine, Poland, and Slovakia pivoted on February 24. Nobody saw this invasion coming or believed the intelligence. So, these massive pivots we have witnessed have been breathtaking.

These three European countries have not been known for welcoming refugees in the past. And yet, unfathomably Poland welcomed nearly 3 million refugees in 3 weeks.

No Ukrainian refugees wanted to stay at the border, but everybody was exhausted and out of resources by the time they crossed over the border and needed a safe place to lay their head.

Ukrainian women walking to the Slovakia border at night. ©T.Albinson/IAFR


the most important thing for the church is not to meet in their buildings, but to care for these Ukrainian refugees.


I witnessed churches pivot to create safe spaces for those fleeing at the border. Many churches in Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine have ripped out their church pews, and covered their floors wall to wall with mattresses. These churches declared that the most important thing for the church is not to meet in their buildings, but to care for these Ukrainian refugees. These churches had to figure out the logistics of laundry, toilets, and showers for those seeking refuge.

The churches are playing a critical role in the border towns we visited. The few pastors and volunteers that are staying are very tired but they keep going. They are being incredibly hospitable and doing great acts of love.


The churches are playing a critical role in the border towns we visited


Another pivot I witnessed was at an orphanage in Ukraine that had recently built a new wing to their building. They opened it up to Ukrainian displaced people.

In a church in Poland little kids were showing a reflection of the Kingdom of God in the midst of disaster; I saw Ukrainian kids and Polish kids playing together, all hanging out together after knowing each other for one day.

Bomb shelter in Uzhhorod, Ukraine. ©T.Albinson/IAFR

I saw glimmers of the Kingdom of God at work in Ukraine. In the (currently) safety of the Western Ukrainian city of Uzhhorod, there is a large Hungarian population, Roma population (also referred to as Gypsies) in addition to the ethnic Ukrainian population. People who were in shock, staring blankly into space, the trauma was thick in the sanctuary.

I met with a Roma Pastor who pivoted by taking ethnic Ukrainian refugees into the homes of their church members to demonstrate Roma hospitality. The Roma church is hosting ethnic Ukrainians in their homes while displaced Roma stay in the church building. This Roma Church is showing that Gypsies are not thieves (as is a stereotype) but a people of hospitality.

One scene I keep going back to was this constant line of people attempting to cross the border into Slovakia from Ukraine: kids with stuffed animals, mothers with roller bags clanking along as they walked up the hill to the Ukrainian border.


you could see the weight of everything they left behind as they moved towards who knows what.


I saw their eyes were cried out, you could see the weight of everything they left behind as they moved towards who knows what. 

Shelter for displaced people in western Ukraine. ©T.Albinson/IAFR

I think it clicked for me that every person we work with as refugees has had to make that decision to cross a border, in this case it was the border into Slovakia. But it made me realize that each refugee has had to make the decision of what to put in their bags, or how they tell their children what’s going on. From Ukraine to Slovakia, it was an uphill walk and I witnessed the impact of the hardest decision they’ve ever had to make, leaving their homeland and their husbands behind.

I came to have a new understanding and respect for this unbearable choice that all refugees have to make; to leave home and cross a border in hopes of safety.

 

 

Please join your prayers together with Arrive Ministries, IAFR, and those of IAFR’s partners in Europe and Ukraine.

Father in Heaven, Father with us here now,
Please provide for those caught in the conflict.
They need safety.
They need water.
They need food.
They need healing.
They need rescue.
They need peace.
Protect them from evil.
They need to know your good and faithful presence with them.

And we pray for our partners seeking to help others.
Provide for them as they do everything that they can to help people survive and recover from forced displacement.
Renew their strength and hope each day.
Give them courage, wisdom, and discernment as they serve.
Protect them from evil.
They too need to know your good and faithful presence with them.

We pray in the name of Jesus.
Amen

 

Click here to learn more about IAFR’s Ukrainian Emergency Response and/or give to the Ukrainian Emergency Response Fund.

 

Compiled by Kate Shermer, Communications Director at Arrive Ministries