Ukraine (MNN) — The refugee waves flooding into Europe are coming at a time when they will face hardship on top of hardship.
Added to the “normal” challenges of displacement come those of the oncoming winter. Few countries are prepared to house new populations for months once the snow flies. Few refugees left home in July thinking about winter coats. It’s a problem that is front and center now in the Balkans.
The circumstances are growing more serious in the race against time, but Brett Laird of Slavic Gospel Association says it obscures another situation that sounds a larger note of crisis: Ukraine. “It brings to mind last winter where we had tens of thousands of people who didn’t have any way to heat their homes. The Ukrainian winters can be quite severe, especially in the eastern part of the country where the conflict was.” SGA found they had a major predicament on their hands, especially with “the older folks and others who couldn’t be very mobile. I mean, they were in threat of dying, just from the elements, even freezing to death inside their homes.”
Last year, with the help of their Crisis Evangelism Fund, SGA came alongside the church with lifesaving help. “The distribution was very targeted towards those in need because it was done by local churches that minister in that area,” explains Laird, by people “who know the people, who go visit them personally and assess their needs, assess exactly how much heating coal they needed.” This year, even more will be required.
The desperate situation facing civilians in eastern Ukraine just got worse. Laird explains, “The rebel-controlled areas kicked out the United Nations, the Red Cross–all of the humanitarian aid organizations that were actively feeding over 120,000 people.” With winter just round the corner, people are unprepared for the cold. “It means that the only real aid that these folks are receiving [is what is] coming from some of our partners, local churches, and people who are living there on the ground.”
In addition, hospitals in front-line areas are short of essential supplies, while the elderly and the sick struggle to get by. Dwindling supplies will push prices at stores higher. Even if aid supply is restored tomorrow, it could take up to three months to get it up and running again. “That does create a growing and looming crisis as we now head into the second winter of this war,” says Laird.
Because the conflict displaced more than 1.4 million people, Laird says there’s likely to be more needs this year. “The needs in Ukraine continue, and oftentimes the main impact on people happens a year or so after they’re displaced because they run out of whatever savings or resources they managed to have and carry with them.”
However, “The Lord has really blessed the Church to be in a unique position, because the churches continue to minister even when the government players are kicked out, as has happened.”
Laird says this scenario reminds him of Matthew 9:36, “When Jesus saw the people, He felt compassion for them because they were distressed and dispirited, like sheep without a shepherd.” When church partners are being the hands and feet of Christ, “the Gospel is ministered. People have heat, as we say, ‘for the heart as well as for their body.’”