My family lived in one room in Nikopol, Ukraine, when I was young. We had less than 200 square feet of living space for my parents, me and my two younger sisters.
My mother did health and sanitary inspections. My father had a job but didn’t work all of the time. We didn’t have much money for clothes or food.
After high school, I got a scholarship for management studies in the city of Zaporizhzhia. Compared to my childhood, my studies were a joyful time.
Then I got a good position in an agricultural company and moved to Mariupol in southeastern Ukraine, about 40 kilometres from the border with Russia. I was promoted to sales manager. I met my wife at a Christian conference and we married in April of 2010. Our son, Rostislav, and our daughter, Angelika, were born in Mariupol.
I remember the day that everything changed."
It was May 9, 2014. I was in the market and heard shooting. It was at the police building, about five or six kilometres away. Scary and terrible things were going on there, right in the middle of Mariupol. People were running in all directions. I had a panic attack for the first time in my life.
I wasn’t there when the building was burned, but I watched it online. It all started as a demonstration and then escalated — there were many armed people shooting into the building. It seems as if they came from nowhere; they supported setting up a Russian territory in Ukraine. The building caught on fire and people died in that building and in the fighting.
The next day, May 10, my family took a bus to Nikopol.
We were lucky to get out; the trains were overloaded and people were panicking. Later, a bridge that was part of the route out of Mariupol was blown up.
At the time, my parents and one of my sisters had an apartment in Nikopol. Our plan was to stay there for a few weeks, until the situation in Mariupol stabilized.
That’s not the way it turned out.
My wife’s parents were still in Mariupol and they told us about the explosions and other dangers. By September most of that part of our family had left. They had a summer house outside Cherkasy village, in central Ukraine. We decided to go there for one week. We stayed for six months, and that was the beginning of the turning point in my life.
The crisis made me ask questions. I felt as if my foundation, everything I stood on, was crushed.
In the village, a pastor who had arrived at the same time as me came to visit. I started to talk to him, to pray and think about what had happened. In Mariupol I had a nice Christian life with no challenges. But I also had no involvement in being useful to other Christians. I knew that God wanted changes in my life.
MCC photo/Colin Vandenberg
Spring came and we returned to Nikopol, to our own apartment where we still live. Money was a sensitive issue. We had used all of our savings in the village and I hadn’t yet found a job. I checked websites, sent out resumes, did some interviews. It was as if God had closed all doors, maybe so I wouldn’t be able to lose myself in the comfort of work.
At church here in Nikopol someone said, why don’t you go to New Life Charitable Fund and ask for help? This was hard, because of my pride. Before this, I had judged people who asked for help. I thought if people had bad times it was their own fault, their choice.
But I had tried to be self-sufficient and take care of my family and I couldn’t do it by myself. Finally it reached a point where we had to ask for help.
New Life gave us food packages, blankets, canned meat, hygiene kits, towels — things provided to New Life by MCC. New Life did this with care and love. We could touch the love in the things they gave us. This love fed us. It wasn’t just words.
That was in April of 2015. The next month I started as a volunteer with New Life. In June, I began working there as an employee.
When I first started working with former prisoners, addicts and the homeless who came to New Life for help, I realized I had an aversion to these people. I didn’t want to touch them.
Little by little, my thoughts changed and the stereotypes faded. I came to see that every person deserves respect and sometimes people find themselves in difficult times because of circumstances — like my case; what happened in Mariupol was not my fault.
People may need support to help them stand up again. Then you can see the change — not 100 per cent of the time. But without that support there’s no chance for change.
In January 2017, I decided to move on from my job at New Life. My next work will be where God leads. I am spending time in prayer to ask for God’s guidance, while I continue to try to help youth and others live healthier lives.
I still think about that village and the pastor who was there when I needed help. And I am thankful for what I have lived through. I don’t know how else I would have learned these things.
Andriy Chaus, 29, worked with MCC partner New Life Charitable Fund in Nikopol, Ukraine from 2015 to January 2017.