Slovyansk, Ukraine: An Epicenter of Charity and War
By Nataliya Khomyak. TUCA has had a long standing relationship with CBN’s Orphan’s Promise (www.orphanspromise.org), a children’s ministry of an international charity organization located right here, in the heart of Hampton Roads, the Christian Broadcasting Network. From helping to bring orphans from Berdyansk, Ukraine here and organizing a St. Nicholas Party for them back in 2005, to consistently contributing to different projects that help orphans successfully transition into independent living, TUCA members have been playing quite a significant role in helping change lives of vulnerable children in Ukraine. Currently we are looking at a new project with CBN’s Orphan’s Promise, helping children from the war zone of Eastern Ukraine, specifically, Slovyansk, get ready for the new school year.
Slovyansk, a city in eastern Ukraine with about 130,000 residents, has suddenly gained international notoriety, as it has become one of the epicenters of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. A gateway city to the eastern regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kharkiv, it is a strategic location for pro-Russian separatists. However, prior to the international attention the city has gained in recent months, Slovyansk was the epicenter of another revolution, a revolution surrounding adoption.
Since 2004 a national adoption and orphan care movement has been on the rise in Ukraine. A country where adoption was once considered taboo or strange has experienced a dramatic shift in embracing the fatherless - so much so that in 2013 Ukraine was recognized by UNICEF as the nation showing the most progress in child protection and welfare reform in Eastern Europe. Much of this success can be attributed to the activity of the Christian community and to an alliance of like-minded individuals, organizations, and churches that banded together in 2010 to launch the Alliance, Ukraine without Orphans. The CBN’s Orphan’s Promise staff in Ukraine has played an active part in the development of this Alliance. Much of the vision of the Ukraine Without Orphans movement can be traced back to an adoption movement that began 11 years ago in Slovyansk, the very same Slovyansk that today is making international headlines.
Good News Church, a congregation of 600 members and five daughter churches in Slovyansk, has been at the forefront in promoting national adoption in Ukraine and Russia for the last decade. Thanks to its campaigns and promotion of adoption and foster care, hundreds of Ukrainian children have been placed with families in the Slovyansk area alone and the church also started a Children’s Home, “Sails of Hope” which CBN’s Orphan’s Promise has helped support for many years.
But today Slovyansk is recognized by the world, not for its transformational work in adoption, but because of the pro-Russian separatists who have taken control of the city and because of the violence taking place there. By early May, active fighting intensified in Slovyansk, and it was apparent that proactive steps needed to be taken to ensure safety for adopted children and their families. Safety for the children living at the Sails of Hope Children’s Home became a top priority, and CBN’s Orphan’s Promise helped provide funds to see that the children were brought to safety.
Getting the children out of what had become a war zone was critical. “I know what a traumatized child is,” said Petro Dudnik, one of the pastors at the Good News Church, “And we don’t want kids to see what is going on here. We do not want these kids to go through more trauma than they already have.” In early May, all the children from Sails of Hope were evacuated to a summer camp near Kyiv. Since the evacuation of the orphans, Pastor Petro Dudnik and his wife Tamara have helped coordinate the departure of over a thousand of other foster and adoptive families, as well as other families in need. With the city completely shut down and no forms of public transit running, coordinating transportation for families to leave the city has become a challenging, daily task for Pastor Petro.
As it turned out, the evacuation of the children’s home happened just in time. Within a day, separatists occupied the territory, and only several days later the orphanage became the site of a battle, which caused damage to the outside of the building, and further extensive damage has been done in ensuing days. Those who evacuated could only thank God for his provision of a safe place at the right time.
But the efforts in Slovyansk have not stopped with the evacuations. After seeing his own family to safety, Pastor Petro chose to remain in Slovyansk to see that the needs of those who are not able to evacuate are met. Food supplies are short and most stores in Slovyansk are now closed, so Pastor Petro and his team are regularly visiting families in need and providing them with groceries and other essentials. “Everyone is living in fear,” he says, “We are able to give out prayer booklets, prayers that contain the Psalms.” For Pastor Petro it is a chance to share the love of Christ, and he says he will remain in Slovyansk as long as he possibly can, doing what he has always done, serving the people of his city. Recently the city of Slovyansk has been taken back from the pro-Russian separatists and some people are returning home, even though the supplies there are still very scarce. The situation in the East is still very unstable with several other cities, including the key city of Donetsk, under the separatists’ control with daily fighting going on.
Meanwhile, the people who have been evacuated need to be taken care of day-to-day. Many churches of different denominations, as well as individual families, have opened their homes and are hosting refugees. CBN’s Orphan’s Promise is helping to provide daily meals and necessities for these refugees, working with partners like Pastor Petro and his team, who are faithfully serving the children of Ukraine during this time of conflict. Many organization like TUCA have stepped up to make this help possible.
As the school year approaches we want to make sure the refugee kids are able to go to school, wherever they are. TUCA has been approached with a proposal to help these kids go to school. For $20 USD we can put together a school kit that has all the necessary items for a kid to go to school (including a new backpack and school supplies). Since these refugee children have left everything behind, and even those that are returning home are coming back to mostly ruined and/or looted houses, we would like to help create some sense of stability for these kids and help them get ready to go back to school. At our TUCA picnic this summer we will be collecting donations to help with these efforts. Currently CBN’s Orphan’s Promise has people on the ground who are coordinating evacuation efforts and getting supplies to those in need. Please consider making a donation at the picnic, or mailing one to TUCA with a designation for “Ukraine Refugee Kids” and partnering with these efforts!