In 2014, my husband and I were appointed as divisional leaders to Ukraine in Eastern Europe Territory. Shortly before we arrived, the Maidan Revolution had taken place, the President had defected, Crimea had been annexed and the first wave of people started to leave the peninsula. Just a few weeks later fighting erupted in the eastern part of the country, sparking a huge exodus from the area.
Thousands of people fled as quickly as they were able across the border or into central Ukraine to ensure their own safety and that of their families. Many women and children were among the first to seek refuge in different parts of Ukraine leaving behind homes, husbands, extended families, good jobs, in fact their whole livelihood. Traumatised by the constant shelling, they feared for their lives, not knowing whether they would survive another day or be able to provide a future for their children in a country torn apart by war.
With the assistance of International Headquarters, The Salvation Army acted quickly to establish welcome centres in corps buildings and to provide those on the move with the most basic of food and hygiene supplies. After many months, it became evident that the war was not going to end in the foreseeable future and many of the internally displaced people (IDPs) would not be able to return to their homes. Thoughts turned to finding ways of helping those affected to integrate with the communities into which they had been unwittingly catapulted. Special attention was paid to the group of vulnerable women who were often forced to live in undesirable conditions and share living with strangers.
Kharkiv Corps has actively engaged with IDPs since the beginning of the crisis, working especially with women and families with children. The corps is now seeing the outcome of having mobilised itself for mission. Following intensive training in integrated mission, the corps officers, together with social workers and employees from the Centre of Hope programme, began assessing the needs of the women and children who came for assistance. Families were visited in their homes and given the opportunity to share their stories. The corps members began to discover the abilities and talents of the women and encouraged them to use these to help others who were in the same situation as themselves.
When women went to the corps to receive material aid, they were invited to cultural events and craft afternoons. This afforded them an opportunity to meet and make new friends in an unfamiliar environment and engage in therapeutic activities. Professional counselling and community advice services helped to round off the package offered by the corps, allowing women to recuperate and start to visualise a way forward.
Today, many of the women who attend the Sunday meetings are there because they initially lost their home and friends, but then found a welcoming and supportive community at The Salvation Army. It is not uncommon for women to testify that their faith in God and humankind have been restored because of how they were received. Kharkiv Corps has embraced the opportunity to serve God even in adversity and continues to do so. While the war continues, women’s lives, and those of their families, have been transformed physically and spiritually because the corps family has shown the love of God in action.
Reference : «The Salvation Army Year Book 2018».
Major Annette Rieder-Pell (formerly Divisional Director of Women’s Ministries, Ukraine) now serves as Territorial Secretary for Business Administration.