What’s Happening to Believers in Ukraine?
By Ruth Schenk
When Russian troops moved into Mariupol, Southeast member Natasha Reimer shifted to crisis mode.
Thirty-seven children from their home for at-risk children and caregivers had to move to a safe location. Those left behind still needed food, though all four volunteers in one car were killed.
There was no time to mourn.
Refugees hiding in basements still needed water, medicine, clothing, and bedding. Believers still wanted someone to worship and pray with them.
Every mark on the map of Ukraine is familiar territory to Natasha. It’s near where she grew up in Crimea and where she serves as the executive director of Mulberry International, a nonprofit that assists at-risk children and families in Ukraine.
Mariupol wasn’t in the news in 2015 when Mulberry began inviting people in the community to study the Bible for the first time. Before the war escalated in February, more than 200 were in Bible studies and gathering in one of 15 house churches to worship.
Long-term investment in the community means long-term opportunity through Russian invasion and beyond.
“Once Russian soldiers moved into Mariupol and fighting escalated, we had to get food to people who could not find any, and we had to get the children to safety,” Natasha said. “They were hiding in the basement of the children’s home when shelling worsened. Most of these children have PTSD due to abuse or neglect. This is one more layer of hurt.”
The children and caregivers fled Mariupol by night, loaded into cars that often dodged bullets, resting during the day in churches along the way. The trip to safety took two weeks.
The director of the children’s home stayed behind as men ages 18 to 60 are not allowed to leave the country. The orphanage became a shelter for more than 70 refugees a day.
“We had pregnant women, elderly men and women, families, people who could not flee hunkering down in the basement under pipes to escape the shelling,” Natasha said. “Every day, the director gathered them for prayer and worship.”
When mortars hit the children’s home, the group moved to a nearby vacant school. There, they hid in another basement.
Since the children’s home was turned into a shelter, more than 50 refugees have decided to follow Jesus.
“God is there,” Natasha said. “People sheltering in Christian homes hear about Jesus, and Christians sheltering in homes that do not know Him also are hearing the Gospel. In hard times, people are open to faith.”
Russian troops that took over local churches in Mariupol told believers it’s a new day in Ukraine. Soldiers confiscated official papers at one church, telling the pastor they came to liberate them from religion.
“You will no longer practice your religion here,” they said.
Natasha’s friends and volunteers now are scattered. Those who can find internet access stay in touch.
To learn more about
Mulberry International, click here.