In and outside Ukraine, war is becoming part of everyday life. It does, however, not lose its horror. People in the UMC in Ukraine and in neighboring countries continue to help. But the strength of the volunteers is dwindling.
Russia's war against Ukraine has already lasted half a year. A time full of destruction, suffering, despair - and sometimes still hope. The war has somehow become "routine," part of everyday life, Yulia Starodubets, who works mainly with internally displaced people in western Ukraine, said in a recent online meeting. "People got used to living with it." The coordinators of Methodist work with refugees in Poland and Czechia, Szarlota Kaminska and Jana Krizova, described the situation in their countries in similar terms.
Even though people in Ukraine have learned to live with war, its inhuman cruelty remains present. "There are still terrible moments when everyone is shaken," Yulia Starodubets emphasized. And given the need, the aid continues with the same commitment as before. Prayers for peace do not cease either. Not in Ukraine. Not in the neighboring countries.
At the same time, those in charge reported another observation of a similar nature: Many aid workers are exhausted, they said. "At the beginning of the war, people did what they could do, as fast as possible and as well as possible," Yulia Starodubets said. That has not changed in principle, she said – after all these months, people are still doing what they can. "But it can be observed that, for example, those who work in the shelters are tired because of all the work they have already done."
With her description, Yulia Starodubets underlined what Ivana Prochazkova, superintendent of the UMC in Czechia, had already urged her helpers to do in March 2022: "Save your strength, the road we are on will be long." Self-care is therefore crucial, Yulia Starodubets said. Time for yourself. Time for rest in the midst of the storm.
Overall, the number of refugees is declining. This applies to both western Ukraine and neighboring countries. Numerous people dare to return to the homes they left weeks or months ago. On the other hand, not all shelters currently housing Ukrainian refugees are usable for the winter. Therefore, it is urgent to take measures in order not to get into a difficult situation in a few months.
The reports of the officials from the countries bordering Ukraine reflect another reality: In the big cities, people from Ukraine who want to stay for a longer period of time can find work relatively easily. However, housing there is very expensive. In smaller towns or villages, on the other hand, housing is more affordable, but jobs are scarce.
Education also presents a particular challenge. In Ukraine, only a limited number of schools are open. Parents often do not know whether it is safe to send their children to school. In neighboring countries, the integration of Ukrainian children is leading to larger classes and new challenges for language reasons. In Romania, they are currently working hard to open a Ukrainian school, said Sarah Putman, coordinator for work with refugees in Romania.
Relief shipments continue to be sent to Ukraine from various countries. In addition to goods for daily needs, urgently needed medicines and medical equipment are repeatedly brought to Ukraine.
Several United Methodist camps in Poland, Czechia, Hungary and Romania were attended not only by people from the respective countries, but also by Ukrainian refugees. It is very encouraging and hopeful that children, youth and adults from Ukraine can become part of a sustainable community – and that they not only have a roof over their heads and something to eat, but that their hearts are cared for as well.
The relief efforts are reason to gratitude and hope. Olga, a woman from Ukraine who now lives in Czechia, recently said of her experience: " The Czech Republic will always leave a mark in our hearts and in the heart of every Ukrainian, because it kindly sheltered us, gave us a break from the sirens, and allowed us to live in peace the spring and summer of this difficult year for all of Ukraine in 2022."
Authors: Sigmar Friedrich, Zurich / Urs Schweizer, assistant to the bishop, Zurich
Photo: Screenshot from a Facebook video of the UMC in Romania