Copperas Cove church seeks to help Ukrainian refugees
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Since February 24 of this year, the country of Ukraine has been forcefully occupied by Russia, with millions of Ukrainian citizens to either flee their homes to other parts of Ukraine or to leave Ukraine altogether.
One local church in Copperas Cove hopes to help at least one Ukrainian refugee family relocate to the Copperas Cove area.
The Cove Church of the Nazarene invited church member Desirae Clark to share during their 10:45 a.m. Sunday service about what has been happening in Ukraine and what the church could do to help out.
Clark has ties to Ukraine, having adopted her daughter and volunteered at different orphan camps in the country. She has friends throughout Ukraine that she has kept in contact with throughout the ongoing war and has taken on a role as an advocate to help where she can, she said.
Clark invited three individuals who have fled to the United States just last month to share their experiences and give a first-hand account of what life has been like since Russia first took Crimea in 2014 but also since Russia declared war in February and invaded.
Due to still having friends and family members living in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, out of precaution, only the first names of the three people from Ukraine were given. The three individuals from Ukraine are Zhenya, Ira and Katia.
Zhenya gave a brief account of what occupation is like. He said that the people in Ukraine suffer almost every day from rocket attacks and are in mortal danger. The people living in the Russian occupied areas of Ukraine, which as of press time included cities such as Luhansk, Mariupol, Melitopol, Kherson, Donetsk, Severodonetsk and Lysychansk and more, have no rights or freedoms, Zhenya said.
Since the Russian occupation, Ukrainians in these occupied regions are at the will of the Russian military who can seize property, arrest people or kill them. The Ukrainians have no access to banks or the postal system, so they can’t get money to buy food, and it is difficult to find personal hygiene items and medicines. If they can be found, they are very expensive, he said.
He said many have not had any water or electricity for weeks and even months, and many people have faced psychological abuse. He added that his home church has helped people flee their city to get to a safe place and have worked with other people to sneak in what military aid they can.
He said that his apartment building was damaged from shelling, as other buildings have been.
“People in Ukraine are not safe, especially those who are in the [occupied] territories,” Zhenya said. “People die every day, and no one will know about it…Everyday, ordinary people risk everything to help others to help simply survive.”
Ira gave her account next, sharing what her mother, who is still in eastern Ukraine, has told her. Ira does not speak English, and so her story was translated by Katia.
“The war that started on February 24 was not unexpected for me,” Katia translated for Ira. “It was more painful eight years ago. I have cried from despair as pilots I knew personally were flying towards the border with Crimea to protect us, and I didn’t know if they would return.”
Ira also mentioned how difficult life has become since Russia invaded Ukraine, especially for the elderly and the sick, since banks and post offices have closed, and pensions are not dispersed.
“Our church and other charitable organizations distribute bread and medicine to people, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so,” Katia translated on Ira’s behalf. “My mother told me a story that while standing in a long line for bread, a Russian soldier standing near the store asked everyone, ‘Why don’t you take free groceries from Russia?’, and my mother replied that they don’t need them, and he was very angry and said, ‘When you starve, you will take everything.’”
Ira said that even during this time, the Ukrainian people have been resilient and continue to help one another.
“Pain and despair have no power over our people,” Katia translated for Ira. “Even in moments of special need, people don’t give up and continue helping each other. When the suburbs of my city are shelled by the Russian army, which mostly happens at night, in the morning, people try to rebuild the damaged buildings. They bring construction materials and cover the roofs to protect the damaged houses from rain or from wind.”
Ira added that the area she was born in has more than 200 years of history, and for generations, the people have been Orthodox Christians who “sincerely believed in God and defended their land from the enemies.”
The people in Ukraine, especially in the area Ira comes from, are very attached to their homes and land and live with or near extended family typically, so when they are fleeing, they are fleeing to an area they are not familiar with, she said.
Clark shared that from her experiences traveling to Ukraine and interacting with people from Ukraine. She mentioned that she has heard of corruption in the governments of many Eastern European countries, including Ukraine, but said her observations have shown that the Ukrainian people have worked to “get rid of the corruption in their government and to try to shake off the yoke of Russian suppression because a lot of the corruption that was happening had to do with Russia wanting to keep control over Ukraine.”
“They have wanted to keep control over many of the countries that are former Soviet satellites that have gotten their independence,” Clark explained. “Russia, not the Soviet Union, but Russia, as we know it today, has attacked many of the former Soviet satellite countries, and they have taken chunks out of these countries and kept those chunks.”
Clark said that it is often believed that the countries just give in and offer their countries to Russia, but it actually comes because Russia makes it impossible, and the countries end up losing their will to fight.
“Ukraine has not done that,” Clark said.
Clark also shared more of what Russia has done to Ukraine and how they have tried to disseminate propaganda to defend their actions.
“I have a missionary friend who is still in Ukraine who is a United States citizen, and this friend regularly points out that what is happening in Ukraine today is no different than what happened in the time of Hitler, and as somebody that pays attention to what’s going on, I personally feel exactly the same way,” Clark said.
Clark said that she wanted to share this information with her church family because she felt that there was an opportunity to do something.
A program called “Uniting for Ukraine” was launched by the U.S. government on April 21 to provide a safe and orderly means for Ukrainians displaced by conflict in Ukraine to join supporters in the U.S., along with the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) and normal immigrant and non-immigrant visa processing. The program allows for a two-year parole period. More information can be found at https://www.uscis.gov/ukraine.
She said when she first heard about Uniting for Ukraine, she had a vision of four apartments with four Ukrainian families in close proximity to one another in Copperas Cove, so that they have not only the support of the church that sponsors them, or the individual that sponsors them, but also that they can support one another.
At the end of Clark’s presentation, a small paper card was passed out to each church member to fill out. The card had options for providing financial support for a Ukrainian family, or assisting in different tasks such as transportation or filling out forms, as well as fundraising and asking for more information on becoming a supporter for a Ukrainian individual or family to come to the U.S. These cards will serve a purpose of showing the Cove Church of the Nazarene how its congregation wishes to help the best.
Clark said she would be happy to speak about this subject to any other church willing to have her, because she felt it is such an important vision.