We learned about the war early in the morning of February 24. It came as a real shock to our Slavic Lutheran congregation in Riga. Our parishioners speak and think in Russian, and suddenly it turns out that Russian soldiers are killing Russians and Ukrainians in Kharkov, Kiev, Kherson, and Mariupol.
I think that in the future there will be a reflection on the reasons for this confusion of the whole country. We will analyze and reflect on how to prevent such tragedies in the future. But today we are simply helping with all our strength to help people who find themselves in incredibly tragic circumstances. We are doing everything we can to alleviate the pain and suffering of the people of Ukraine, who are now fleeing to Europe by the millions.
Since the first days of the war, the St. Maynard Foundation, closely affiliated with our congregation, has launched a humanitarian mission in cooperation with other churches and ministries in Latvia and other countries. We have already received help from the Mennonite Committee in the Netherlands, a Quaker congregation from Great Britain, the interdenominational Samaria Mission from Finland, and we have received support and financial help from people in Germany, Uzbekistan and South Korea. Even our Russian co-religionists send us money in secret! Many of them are now coming out to rallies against the war, they are arrested and face administrative and criminal charges. Providing financial aid amounts to treason — but they still do it in secret, out of Christian love for Ukrainians suffering from the Russian invasion.
Our work did not stop day and night. One of the hardest parts is the constant coordination of getting people out of the most dangerous cities in Ukraine and talking to people affected by the horrors of war.
We use all the familiarity with the ministries and people we have known for many years, immediately acquiring dozens more, and all available technical resources and networks of volunteers and were able to evacuate dozens of families from Irpen, Bucha, Kiev, Kharkov via Lviv to Poland. The work goes from early morning all day until late evening, and sometimes even at night.
Depending on the physical condition of people, we send them either directly to Latvia or through a rented transit apartment in Krakow — further to Germany. Persons and families, especially those with mental illnesses, who need qualified medical assistance went to Germany. Others we offered accommodation in Latvia.
For example, thanks to coordination with other church structures, we were able to transport 8 refugees stranded there from the border in Poland. The bus was designed for 50 people, but 58 came across the border. Buses from Latvia were urgently coordinated and found with a load of humanitarian aid, which helped get the needy people to Riga.
Here are some of the many stories we have witnessed in recent days.
The P. family made their way out of Irpen through Bucha just minutes before the mass shooting began. An hour after their cars hit the highway, their hometown was already on fire. Today it is a pile of ruins, with thousands of people now in the basements. One family member was undergoing chemotherapy, and the other had a flare-up of autoimmune disease and was in urgent need of medication. Their 10-year-old daughter went with them. We managed to find prednisolone in Lviv to ease the symptoms of the disease. Then, through volunteers in Lviv, we took the family to the border crossing with a minimum load (in Telegram volunteers exchange operational information on the number of people on the border at different crossing points), on the Polish side they were met by our volunteer and taken to Krakow. There they had already managed to find a doctor who gave them a prescription for medicine to continue chemotherapy on the basis of Ukrainian prescriptions. On Thursday, March 10th they left for Germany, where our partners will help them to receive quality treatment.
The second story is about a mother and a girl. The mother is from a small village. Hard life, alcoholic husband, domestic violence. Daughter needs constant psychotherapeutic help because of depression and suicide attempts. In the midst of chaos, even socially advantaged people get lost and fall into a stupor. The evacuation of this family was particularly difficult. I coordinated the crossing over the phone with the mother, who was completely lost and didn’t know what to do. At the same time a psychotherapist worked with the girl and stabilized her psychologically. At that moment, the psychotherapist was in a bomb shelter in the center of Kiev! The family is safe in Germany now and they are being helped by the leading psychotherapists in the country. They are going to be fine.
Yesterday we took another group out. A mother and son with special needs from Kharkov. And a young girl from Brovary (a suburb of Kyiv where the fighting is going on right now). They are safe in Riga, but need psychological rehabilitation after experiencing the horror of war.
Next week we are sending a large shipment of food and hygiene products (including diapers for children) from our friends in Finland to Ukraine near the city of Mariupol. It will be received by a friendly church, which these days is taking people out and helping in the region where the worst battles are being fought. Mariupol has already been compared to the besieged Leningrad. The city is isolated from the outside world, people there lack water and food. There are not even enough resources to bury all the dead.
Here is what my friend, Pastor Gennady Mokhnenko, writes: «The real number of dead residents of the besieged Mariupol is several thousand. The figure of 1300 people, officially confirmed, is far from reality… Russian scumbags destroyed a huge number of houses, the ruins of which no one can physically dismantle. Many of those killed by the Russians are simply buried wherever they can. However, Mariupol is holding its ground and is not surrendering to the Rascist Nellyudes. The Ukrainian army is beating the enemy hard on the approaches to the city. All they can do is destroy women and children with rockets. The operation to «liberate» Mariupol by the Russian «world» is a real crime against humanity. Descendants will curse their Russian fathers who did all this…
Yesterday’s aerial bombing of the city hospital and maternity ward is a separate article in a future tribunal.
The whole world saw footage of the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol. Many cities in Ukraine are turning into ruins, the Russian army is committing atrocities, more than 2 million refugees have already arrived in Europe, more than 7 million are expected in the coming months! This is the largest humanitarian disaster in Europe since World War II.
We will continue to help people, we believe that God will find people who will support financially the humanitarian mission from Latvia in Ukraine. We labor and pray! Ora et Labora!
Pastor of the Slavic Lutheran Epiphany Community in Riga