The Invasion of Ukraine and the Churches Response
Russia’s Full-Scale Invasion of Ukraine
On February 24, 2022, Russian forces began attacking the sovereign state of Ukraine on all fronts, primarily striving to capture the capital, Kyiv.
Ukrainian citizens met these attacks with surprising resistance, as people, some of whom had never held a gun, began taking up arms to defend their country. When Russia first attacked, Ukrainian President Zelensky vowed that Ukraine “would never give up,” and he has stayed firm in his resolve. This unexpected resistance dashed the hopes of what some Russian authorities believed would be a swift victory. Even so, thousands of Ukraine civilians have died and millions more have been forced to evacuate their homes and seek asylum in other countries.
The central figure behind this aggression is Russian President Vladamir Putin. Putin believes that Russia has a historical and religious claim to Ukraine and doesn’t recognize it as a sovereign state. His goal is to reassimilate Ukraine as a part of Russia by taking Kyiv and replacing its democratic governance. Putin is so central to the conflict that some call it “Putin’s war on Ukraine.” The war doesn’t seem to be popular amongst the Russian people any more than it is with the rest of the world as thousands of Russian citizens risk arrest by protesting the war in Moscow. Even some of the Russian military forces stationed in Ukraine have shown hesitance.
To combat public sentiment, the suppression of media in Russia has worsened in recent months. Citizens are in the dark more than ever as restrictions have been placed on platforms such as Facebook and Youtube, leading to bans of the platforms altogether. However, Russian citizens have found ways to communicate with the outside world by utilizing VPNs and apps such as Telegram. A Russian protester named Marina Ovsyannikova even held up a sign on a live TV broadcast, warning people not to believe the propaganda.
The general sentiment is against the aggression, as Putin’s actions are condemned worldwide. Surrounding nations have continued with great solidarity in their support of Ukraine, as sanctions have been leveraged against Russia, and countries such as Poland, Moldova, Slovakia, Romania, and Hungary are opening their borders to the immense number of refugees fleeing the conflict.
The Refugee Crisis
Even before the attack, surrounding counties were making preparations for the number of Ukrainian people that would flee if Russia attacked. The UN speculated that over 4 million Ukrainian refugees would require help, while an estimated 12 million people still in Ukraine would need support. Now that the crisis is happening, the UN has noted it as one of the biggest and fastest-growing refugee crises in Europe since World War II.
Neighboring countries have opened up their borders and are rushing to provide shelter and basic necessities to the overwhelming influx of refugees, mostly women and children. In response to the overwhelming need, local communities and regional organizations have shown heartfelt solidarity by volunteering, offering transportation, donating blankets, warm clothes, sleeping bags, and other basic necessities, as well as opening their homes to refugees.
Despite their desire to help at the borders, resources are stretched thin and under unfavorable conditions. People are forced to wait long hours in the cold with little to no money or possessions after difficult journeys. Many are in need of medical assistance, and volunteers meet various challenges such as unaccompanied children.
Another concerning result of this conflict is the threat of human trafficking for the already vulnerable refugees. A tweet by the UNHCR states, “Women and children fleeing Ukraine are at an increased risk of gender-based violence, including trafficking and sexual exploitation & abuse.” Many traffickers will approach people pretending to be volunteers offering help and housing. In an attempt to combat this, websites have been set up where locals are able to register to host families. Refugees are warned to be wary of “too good to be true” opportunities and encouraged to report suspicious offers and activity.
Racial discrimination has also posed a problem as people of color fleeing the conflict have faced discrimination such as harassment, false accusations of crimes, and blatant unequal treatment.
The Response of Christian Churches
Since the crisis began, churches all over the world have rushed to meet the need with donations, prayers, and organized relief missions.
One example is the UMCOR, which is connected with United Methodist Churches all over Europe. They have worked with local communities, other churches, and non-governmental organizations to provide relief in all areas of demand, including offering housing and taking action to prevent human trafficking.
Samaritan’s Purse has been working hard to provide medical assistance by setting up field clinics and using aircraft to deliver medical and relief supplies. The ministry has strong ties in Ukraine with connections to over 3000 churches there and in Moldova. President of Samaritan’s Purse Franklin Graham stated, “We want to meet the needs of these families in their darkest moments while pointing them to the light and hope of Jesus Christ.” He called for people to join him in prayer for the people of Ukraine and for a swift end to the conflict.
Mission Eurasia is a ministry devoted to training leaders and activists to spread the gospel and promote change in Eurasia and Israel. In response to the crisis, this ministry created the Ukraine Emergency Relief Fund, through which they have been able to set up three refugee centers that provide food, shelter, medical assistance, and help to find long-term establishments.
Additionally, they have been sending care packages with food and Bibles to people in Ukraine. They have also set up the Ukraine Crisis Prayer Initiative, where people can sign up to be alerted and join the ministry in praying for time-sensitive needs.
Intersession has been a major movement as churches across the world have hosted rallies, prayer meetings, and other forms of intercession on behalf of Ukraine. A post by Anglican Mainstream outlines how churches in Britain and Ireland have joined together in prayer and lighting candles for Ukraine. Inna, a Ukrainian broadcaster for the FEBC has been hosting prayer meetings almost every day and many people in desperate situations have found hope in her daily meetings.
The response from churches across the world has been overwhelming as these are only a few amongst many that have swiftly responded to the ever-growing need.
Ways you can help
- Stay informed: For a basic understanding of the War on Ukraine, Vox gives a cohesive explanation that dives into the origins of the conflict and how it relates to its current trajectory. Additionally, by following “unhcr_ukraine” which is the UN Refugee Agency on Instagram, you can stay updated on the refugee crisis. Many of the ministries mentioned such as Mission Eurasia have also been posting regular updates.
- Raise Awareness: Awareness can be raised through writing to elected officials, sharing your thoughts with friends, and creating meaningful dialogue around the issue. These options can help you and others see windows of opportunity to promote change. Whether it’s posting about the need for refugee help or talking to friends about how the situation has impacted them or people they know, small interactions have the potential to incentivize change.
- Pray and Intercede: Prayer rooms across the world have opened up with people assembling to pray for peace in Ukraine. Whether you opt to pray with a group of friends, join a global prayer room, or simply pray by yourself, you will be meeting an international call for prayer. You can also sign up to receive Urgent Prayer request notifications from the Ukraine Crisis Prayer Initiative to pray for specific needs.
- Donate or Fundraise: In the wake of the war, there has been an ever-growing demand for supplies such as transportation, food, winter clothes, medical equipment, and more. For those who have the means to give financially, there are numerous non-profits and ministries on the frontlines that will use your donation to directly help those in need.
Feature image from BBC.