Ukraine’s deadly winter takes long-term toll

By February 22, 2012

Ukraine (MNN) — A severe cold spell
in Ukraine has prompted the United Nations to give $100,000 to aid Ukraine's
homeless after over 150 people died from the cold.

Griffith with
Slavic Gospel Association explains, "Ukraine is, in
eastern Europe, what they used to call 'the breadbasket' of the former Soviet
Union, where crops like wheat, barley, oats and other things are grown. Ukraine is not used to these really
severe cold snaps like you would have in Siberia."  

Europe, as a region, was hit hard by days of temperatures that fell as low as
22 degrees below zero (F).  While many
of the homeless deaths were exacerbated by alcohol, the extreme conditions also left nearly 4,000 hospitalized with
hypothermia and frostbite.   

Ukraine has come to a standstill. "The government has had to shut
down schools, colleges, nursery schools. The Danube River, which flows through
Eastern Europe, is an important river for shipping and commerce: it's
completely frozen over. Ice jams. When that happens, you've got flooding that
will take place, and you've had heavy snows that caused power outages."

Electricity has been unreliable, and
the cold has disrupted other infrastructure, as well. Poor families are having a hard time getting
enough warm clothing, and with no heat in their homes, the conditions quickly
become life-threatening. Griffith says, "When
you have a society with a certain large amount of poverty and homelessness, it
really does take a toll. In the long-term,
impacts on the economy have yet to be seen."

Even when the weather shifts, the effects of the cold spell won't
dissipate quickly. The freeze killed
most of the winter barley and winter rapeseed crops and seriously damaged wheat
in Ukraine's eastern and southern regions. Frost also threatened winter crops and slowed exports in Russia.

Slavic Gospel Association partners
with many of the churches in Ukraine. They're still assessing a response. However,
Griffith adds that "we're trying to be an arm of support
to evangelical churches in Ukraine as they would seek to minister not only to
their own needy, but also to their communities. What we have the opportunity to
do is to help these churches by helping to provide humanitarian aid."

The potential for outreach is huge. Rather
than shipping containers over, SGA raises the money and sends it to their
partners. "We help the churches purchase the aid they need
overseas, and then they distribute it to the families in need along with a
Gospel witness."  

SGA maintains a Regional Ministry
Center in Irpen, a suburb of the capital city of Kyiv, and is a key sponsor of
Irpen Biblical Seminary, Odessa Theological Seminary and the International
Bible Institute of Ukraine. SGA partners support national church-planting
missionaries, as well as children's ministries like Immanuel's Child,
Orphans Reborn,
and summer camp ministries.

Griffth says, "Pray that the
churches would have open doors right now. When people are in need like this,
when people are broken and hurting, that's certainly the time they need to
hear of Christ's love."  

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