By Christie R. House
May 20, 2022 | ATLANTA
Irina and her two children, Mathou (age 5) and Tapolina (age 8), evacuated from the eastern part of Ukraine as invading Russian forces began a bombing campaign on their village in the Donetsk region. As in many Ukrainian families, her husband, a history teacher, stayed behind to join the Ukrainian defense forces. At first, they told the children the sound of bombs was just distant thunder, but as the Russian missiles got closer, the children began screaming.
“The children didn’t want to leave the shelter of the furniture. They ate under there. They were really very, very scared. That was when I realized that it was time to evacuate somewhere,” Irina said.
She didn’t even know where to go, other than west to Lviv. On foot they tried to get to the evacuation point, but when Russian forces started shelling, they had to hide. It took multiple tries and getting into a car with Ukrainians they didn’t even know, but they made it to a railway station and out to Lviv. From there, they continued west.
They finally reached Batiovo, Ukraine, in Transcarpathia, not far from the Hungarian border. There they found a refugee shelter supplied by ACT Alliance partner Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA), an ecumenical humanitarian agency of Protestant and Orthodox churches. They took shelter with about 90 other displaced Ukrainians and received beds, water, shower facilities and three meals a day. The playground outside allows Irina’s children to play with other Ukrainian children, away from the sounds and devastation of the missiles.
The Batiovo refugee shelter is one of more than 120 centers supplied with food, water, hygiene products and household appliances by HIA. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is a partner in this work through its support of ACT Alliance relief work in Ukraine as well as in countries receiving refugees outside the country. UMCOR has so far contributed $1 million to ACT Alliance relief efforts. In addition to the HIA outreach, Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Swiss Church Aid (HEKS/EPER) conduct similar ACT missions in other parts of Ukraine.