No matter whether their path continues or they want to stay: Together with governmental and non-governmental organizations, members and friends of the UMC help refugees from Ukraine. The task of supporting refugees who want to stay in their respective countries for a longer period of time has become more important.
"Save your strength! The road we are on will be long," says Ivana Prochazkova, superintendent of the UMC in the Czech Republic, referring to the relief efforts for refugees from Ukraine. Even if hopes for peace in Ukraine are soon realized, many refugees will remain for months in the countries where they found refuge after leaving their homes.
Over four million people have already left Ukraine, according to UNHCR. More than six million are fleeing within the country itself. An estimated 13 million are stranded in areas affected by warfare and are currently unable to leave. "Based on the experiences of the past weeks, men and women of the UMC are doing their best to help their 'new friends' and 'guests,' as the refugees are called by those in charge in Romania and Poland," Urs Schweizer writes. The assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff regularly provides a brief overview of the UMC’s relief efforts in Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, based on reports from the coordinators and leaders in these countries.
Many refugees continue their journey after spending a few restful nights in a country that borders directly or indirectly on Ukraine - at least that is how those responsible in Hungary and Slovakia summarize. The situation is somewhat different in Poland and Czechia. Andrzej Malicki, leading superintendent of the UMC in Poland, estimates that about 60% of the more than two million refugees who have fled to his country so far want to stay. Observations in Czechia are similar.
For the aid offered by governmental, church and other non-governmental organizations, this means that in addition to emergency aid for refugees on their onward journey, care for those who stay longer is becoming increasingly important. For example, local churches of the UMC in Kielce and Elk (Poland) or Prague (Czech Republic) offer language courses in the local language for people from Ukraine.
The local church in Prague-Horni Pocernice (Czech Republic) also involves Ukrainian children in the existing activities of a home run by Diakonia of the UMC in Czechia. At the same time, people from this church also help Ukrainian women find work.
For refugees who wish to travel further west, many local churches continue to offer accommodations in their own facilities or those provided by them. In Hungary, a place has been set up where refugees can do laundry and get free access to the Internet.
The UMC not only supports refugees arriving in the various countries. Thanks to long-standing contacts and a newly expanded network of cooperation with Methodist churches in Ukraine, several transports of relief supplies have already been sent to Ukraine. Dedicated helpers from Poland, Romania and Czechia have brought medicines, food, toys, diapers, bedding and other items to Ukraine in this way.
In Pulawy, Poland, among the refugees taken in are a Methodist pastor and half a dozen people from a Methodist church in Ukraine. In principle, however, religious or denominational affiliation does not matter, Schweizer says. "Anyone who needs help and turns to the UMC will get that help whenever possible."
There is also a remarkable development in another respect: women, men, young people and children from Ukraine do not "only" sleep in church or guest rooms, but they also participate in church services or become "active" in other ways. For example, in Hungary, a Baptist missionary who fled Ukraine helps with translation work and pastoral care of the refugees. Ctirad Hruby, pastor of Mikulov UMC (Czechia), recounts the encouraging example of two young Christian women from Ukraine. A few days after they arrived in Mikulov, they are now running a newly opened children's club for Ukrainian children.
The Methodist network with congregations of the one, worldwide church in various countries can be a valuable support for relief efforts, especially in this challenging situation. A newsletter of the UMC in Czechia gives the example of two families who had come from Kyiv to Hungary. At the request of the Methodist superintendent, the next stop for the four adults and six children on their onward journey to Sweden was Slany UMC in Czechia.
But the network proves to be sustainable in another respect, as well. According to Superintendent Ivana Prochazkova, there are many volunteers in the UMC Czechia who are willing to help. The challenge, however, is to provide the financial means necessary for the help. Those in charge are, therefore, very grateful for the donations that are being collected in Western Europe and the United States.
"We find ourselves in a situation that reveals our weaknesses, but also our strengths," writes Karel Nyerges, director of the Methodist Diaconal Work in the Czech Republic. Currently, "unconditional acceptance and mutual tolerance are expected from us," he says. Especially in view of a medium- and long-term commitment, it is important to preserve these attitudes. That's why he urges: "Let us try to ensure that these virtues remain among us, even if though the environment will already be promoting different thoughts and opinions."
Author: Sigmar Friedrich, Zurich