On the day that rockets began to rain down onto Kharkiv, Ukraine, Pavel* and a group from his church stepped outside, raised their hands and prayed. They turned in faith to God, seeking the protection of a seniors' home called House of Hope. The residence is in a village close to Kharkiv, where Pavel has been providing relief for people fleeing the conflict. And after more than a month of the continued destruction in Kharkiv and the surrounding area, House of Hope is still standing.
Still standing, too, is the hope that Pavel maintains. He is the leader of MCC partner in Ukraine KECB (Kharkiv Independent ECB Churches), which works to support the elderly, the sick and the poor. KECB is helping the most vulnerable escape the danger of the conflict by moving them to smaller villages around Kharkiv that have been less directly targeted.
Kharkiv is Ukraine's second-largest city and has been the site of some of the worst destruction by Russian military forces. Much of the city that once was home to 1.4 million people has been reduced to unlivable rubble. Some 80 per cent of the population has fled the city and the area around it. And while many have escaped to neighbouring countries seeking refuge, many Ukrainians are unable to flee the death and destruction, particularly those who are disabled, sick or very old.
KECB is based out of a village* near Kharkiv that is home to around 4,300 people. In addition to transporting people to safety, KECB is buying and making food and, more importantly, says Pavel, purchasing much-needed medicine.
Photo courtesy of KECB
"We have 47 people with epilepsy in this district and the authorities came to us with a request to help with medicine for these people. There are also 57 with diabetes, 54 with cancer, 27 including some children with asthma and 63 with thyroid conditions. We need very special medicine, not just what you buy when you have a cold."
Through the incredible outpouring of support from donors across the world, KECB has received support from MCC to continue this life-saving work.
"For the people who are sick or disabled, it's very hard for them," says Pavel. "We've taken people out of places that the battle lines are very close to, like Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. Just yesterday, some brothers [from the church] set up a toilet so it could be adapted for those who can't move around on their own."
And for many of the people KECB is helping, physical needs are only one component of caring for them.
"There was an 84-year-old woman who was brought to us from the hospital. She did not see all the destruction and can't fully realize and believe that all this is actually happening. She needs to talk about it all the time. She has a house, which is now partially destroyed. She lives in the area of constant shelling, and it is not possible to return there now."
Photo courtesy of KECB
KECB's small fleet of vehicles travels to several villages in the area around Kharkiv every day, looking for anyone left behind who needs help. And through their base at House of Hope and the Christian school next door, they also prepare meals and food packages for as many people as they can, baking their own bread multiple times a day. Pavel says once the relief supplies have been distributed, the buckets that MCC relief kits are packaged in make great vessels for proofing large batches of dough.
"If we can't use all the bread in one day, we cut it and dry it so it can be eaten tomorrow or in the food packages," he says, holding up a five-gallon pail filled to the top with dried cubes of bread. "And we've distributed more than 11,000 food packages so far."
*Last names and specific locations are not used for security purposes
Top photo: MCC partner Kharkiv Independent ECB Churches (KECB) transports a group of people out of Kharkiv. KECB particularly seeks out sick, disabled and elderly people who need special care and houses them at a local Christian school and House of Hope, a seniors' residence in their village community nearby. The names of the people pictured are not provided for security reasons. (Photo courtesy of KECB)