When the conflict in Ukraine first began, ADRA called upon our large Adventist network in surrounding countries to aid with the refugee crisis. Based on estimates published by the United Nations, we expected at least 4 million people to become refugees due to the Ukraine Crisis.
Within hours, Adventist churches, camps and youth centers, as well as individual Adventist families, had offered to become safe havens for refugees.
One such church in Romania converted into a refugee center overnight. This is their story.
Housing a Family in Need
At night, Victoria falls asleep in a room crowded with people, mattresses, and luggage. When she wakes up, she calls her husband in Ukraine to see if he is still alive.
Her seven-year-old daughter sleeps beside her. Across the room, alongside several other relatives, Victoria’s brother-in-law stirs fitfully. She says the seventeen-year-old is still traumatized by his recent experiences in Ukraine, where he lived as a student before joining the rest of the family in their desperate escape.
On the phone, Victoria’s husband tells her that he is still okay. Teary-eyed, Victoria admits that if not for her daughter, she would have stayed behind with him.
“My daughter has panic attacks and allergies,” she says. “Where we would hide in the basement there was a lot of dust. She couldn’t breathe well, so after fifteen minutes we would have to go outside for fresh air.”
As the situation in Ukraine continued to deteriorate, Victoria’s husband insisted she take their daughter and flee across the border. Because of current restrictions, men between the ages of 18 and 60 are prohibited from leaving, but at least his wife and daughter would be safe.
Now, Victoria has no idea what the future holds for any of them.
“I have a brother in America and in-laws in Canada,” she says, “but we don’t have visas now and they can’t take all of us. All we can do is just wait.”
Being Jesus’ Hands and Feet
The church where Victoria is staying is one of many Adventist churches in Ukraine’s neighboring countries to become a refuge for those who have been displaced by the conflict. It can hold up to 60 people at a time, and provides free meals, drinks, clothes, bedding, and access to shower pods, which were recently installed in the church basement bathrooms to accommodate the hygiene needs of the incoming refugees.
“Some of them haven’t slept for four days, and haven’t showered,” says Vasile, a volunteer at the church. “This is very important for them.”
A former lawyer, Vasile is now a seminary student. He listens to class lectures online while offering bottles of water, organizing volunteer receptionists at the 24-hour intake desk in the lobby of the church, carrying boxes of food donations and—in nearly every waking moment—talking on the phone.
“I think I’ve made about 3,000 phone calls in the last week,” he says. “I’ve never been so tired in my life.”
His fatigue doesn’t show. If it is there, it is buried beneath his passion for the work.
“When a representative from ADRA called us and said, ‘we have to convert the church into a refugee camp,’ we immediately made the decision, voted it in, and converted the church,” Vasile says. “We love Jesus so much and we wanted to be his hands and his feet for these people.”
Vasile is part of the Adventist network of churches, institutions and homes that is offering services to the incoming refugees from Ukraine. Together, they are able to provide housing and essential supplies to thousands of people crossing the border in search of safety.