The war in Ukraine may already be taking a back seat for many in the West. However, more refugees are still arriving in countries near Ukraine. The most important task in many places is to give them their own access to and place in the respective society.
Jana Krizova compares the current challenges in working with refugees to people falling in love. "After a period of initial enthusiasm, a more solid relationship with a longer-term perspective must now be established." The Methodist pastor coordinates the United Methodist relief efforts for Ukrainian refugees in the Czechia.
At the same time, a certain fatigue is setting in among the helpers who have taken in dozens of people week after week since the war began, reports László Khaled, Methodist superintendent in Hungary.
The coordinators of Methodist work for Ukrainian refugees in countries directly or indirectly bordering Ukraine reported on their work in an online meeting last Wednesday. For example, men and women of the UMC have developed and carried out activities specifically for the Ukrainian population in various places: there are language courses in Czechia, Bulgaria and Poland. Or a meeting place for Ukrainian children and their mothers in Protivin (Czechia). In Dobrich (Bulgaria) neurographic art therapy is offered at a school. In Shumen (Bulgaria), the social center for refugees set up by the Methodist leaders there is visited daily by more than 20 people.
The UMC leaders in Romania do not primarily want to build separate Ukrainian communities, but to invite the new Ukrainian "friends" to become part of a sustainable, diverse community. Sarah Putman, coordinator in Romania, gives an example of a woman from Ukraine with cancer who was taken in at the Methodist community center in Cluj-Napoca. In the same building, a member of the UMC directs the work of a nonprofit organization that accompanies Romanian cancer patients. The Ukrainian woman will thus not only receive the help she needs, but also be part of a sustainable community.
In Cluj-Napoca, Romania, as many as 20 Ukrainian refugees also regularly attend the Sunday morning services. "They have started to read Scripture passages in Ukrainian so that those in attendance can hear the Word in their heart language," Sarah Putman says. In Prague, Czechia, refugees who want to attend a service are usually referred to the Russian-speaking Agape UMC, says Jana Krizova. The majority of those belonging to this congregation have Ukrainian roots.
The responsible persons of the UMC unanimously emphasize that the refugees are not "mission objects". Jana Krizova, for example, emphasizes that the difficult and painful situation in which the refugees find themselves, must not be abused. "It is very easy to manipulate people in need. That's why refugees must not be pressured to make a decision about their faith."
But for many Ukrainian refugees, faith is also an important resource. As an example, László Khaled from Hungary tells the story of a Ukrainian family who had arrived at their destination in time for the start of the service. "The people of the congregation asked them what they could provide their guests with: food, clothes, shoes, and so on. But the Ukrainian family replied, 'We don't need anything. We just need a worship service.'"
Szarlota Kaminska from Poland tells of a very different form of cooperation between Ukrainian refugees and a local church: "Ukrainian refugees have in the past also helped to prepare aid transports to Ukraine, and they could thus contribute to relief activities for their compatriots back home themselves."
"If our aid is to be truly effective, just having a roof over their heads is not enough," writes Karel Nyerges, director of the Methodist Diaconal Work in Czechia, in a newsletter. "It takes a team of people who take care of the important administrative and social issues and also serve as a permanent point of connection between the residents and our society." According to him, the goal of their work is to find jobs and housing for people from Ukraine and give them the opportunity to talk to a psychologist or other trauma specialists so that they can then live their lives without the support of Diakonia UMC.
The task of building relationships with a longer-term perspective, described by Jana Krizova, is challenging. Methodists are committed in many places, in cooperation with other helpers on the ground and with support from the worldwide Methodist network, to ensuring that this important process succeeds as well as possible.
Urs Schweizer, Assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff, Zurich / Sigmar Friedrich, Zurich