Photo by Vlad Sulima

Olga Mykhailov with her son Daniel in their new home in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.

Update April 9, 2015 — MCC is thankful for a $1 million contribution from the Canadian government for our work in Ukraine. The grant will provide assistance with rent, shelter repairs and hygiene items to 1,495 displaced families in Zaporizhzhia and Zhytomyr oblasts for six months. The assistance will be delivered through two of MCC’s current partners, Zaporizhzhia Evangelical Christian Baptist Union and Zhytomyr Regional Charity Fund. While this new funding is welcome, MCC continues to request donations to meet urgent needs in Ukraine, especially for food assistance.

 

WINNIPEG, Man.—Olga Mykhailov was seven months pregnant when she and her husband Andrei decided to flee their home in Donetsk, Ukraine. They could feel the impact of bombs dropping as the conflict inched closer.

They got in their car and drove to Zaporizhzhia, a city just over 200 km away.

“We didn’t have anything with us,” says Olga. “We had our summer clothes and our slippers. We thought...in two weeks the problem would be resolved and we could come back home.”

She smiles, though, as she remembers the help she and her husband received from the Zaporizhzhia Baptist Union, a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partner, through the City Aid Center in Zaporizhzhia, soon after they arrived.

A doctor at the clinic gave her an address and, with no other information, told her to show up there at a certain time and bring her husband.

“I was scared because I thought maybe my husband would be taken to the army to serve in the war conflict,” she says. “I didn’t know what would happen.”

When they arrived, Dima Matyukhin, who coordinates the City Aid Center, greeted them and led the couple through a door decorated with colourful balloons. They were relieved to see it was a meeting for pregnant women who fled from eastern Ukraine. 

Olga (far right) at a baby shower hosted by the Zaporizhzhia City Aid Center.              Photo by Matyukhin Dmitry

MCC works with partners like the Zaporizhzhia Baptist Union and others in Zhytomyr, and Nikopol Oblasts to provide essential food support and, whenever possible, rent support to displaced families from eastern Ukraine. 

Matyukhin helped the Mykhailov family find a place to live and gave them enough money to cover the first three months rent. Andrei has since found temporary work to support his small family and today their son Daniel is four months old.

The family does not know if they will ever return to their home. They suspect their apartment is destroyed. Their parents, who still live in Donetsk, say fighting in the area continues despite the most recent ceasefire agreement between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russian rebels in February.

The Ukrainian State Emergency services report over 1 million internally displaced people—nearly double the number reported in December. An additional 640, 000 are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.

Many displaced people fleeing eastern Ukraine come to Zaporizhzhia, creating increased stress in the area and stretching its resources.

Vadym Proshak, a pastor of the Zaporizhzhia Baptist Union, worries the conflict is getting closer.

Several people he knows have been drafted into the Ukrainian army. “When you know someone and hear about the funeral it makes the war really close to you,” he says.

A hospital in Lisichansk, Luhans'ka Oblast. Photo by Sulima Pavel

MCC continues to appeal for cash donations along with hygiene and relief kits to respond to ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine.

“We are very thankful for the help, for the donations,” says Proshak. “It is really vital. It is changing people’s lives here and for some of them it is a question of death and life.”

He closes the conversation with a simple plea. “Please pray for peace in Ukraine.”

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