Christians across US find ways to support Ukraine
As Russia continues its assault on Ukraine, many American Christians…
PABIANICE, Poland — Joyful squeals reached an ear-shattering pitch as Ukrainian children ran across the common room of the Piemont Hotel. They finally had space to play. Reprimands from adults to quiet down went understandably unheard.
The children who live in this suburban hotel, about 6 miles outside of the city of Łódź, spent hours waiting in lines, in cars and on foot, to cross into Poland from their war-torn homeland.
Many came with mothers, aunts and grandmothers as border guards detained their fathers to help with Ukraine’s war efforts.
They come from places including Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and besieged and battered Mariupol. Their paths intersect at the hotel, where a small group of Polish and American Christians help them start new lives.
Brandon and Jessica Zorn, missionaries supported by The Hills Church of Christ near Fort Worth, Texas, work with the 38 refugees — 18 women, four men and 16 children — living in the Piemont Hotel. They minister alongside members of a Polish congregation, the Genesis Nova Christian Church, which rents the hotel for the Ukrainians.
It’s not the ministry the Zorns had prepared for when they moved from Texas to Poland in October 2016. They came to Łódź, Poland’s third-largest city, to plant churches and work with Let’s Start Talking. That ministry uses Bible lessons to help nonnative speakers improve their English.
Yet, the Zorns’ family history is closely intertwined with that of the refugees.
Lidia, the Zorns’ 3-year-old daughter, was named after her great-grandmother, Lydia, who fled in the 1920s at 4 years old from the Second Polish Republic — part of which is now modern-day Ukraine — following the Polish-Soviet War.
Nearly 100 years later, Lydia’s grandson and his family host weekly English classes and Bible studies for residents at the short-term refugee resettlement in Pabianice.
They imagine Lydia’s story is not so different from that of the Ukrainian refugees today.
This is the second war to dislocate Juliia Dubina and her family.
In 2014, Dubina fled Luhansk, Ukraine, with her mother, Inna, when pro-Russian separatist groups gained prominence in the Donbas region. Eight years later, she fled from Kyiv with her 6-year-old daughter, Alice.
The journey was not easy.
Dubina and her family spent hours in their car — driving, sleeping, waiting. A man stole her mother’s bag, which contained her laptop and personal documents, after they crossed into Poland. Finding a place to stay long enough to decide how to approach the future proved to be a challenge.
Finally, her family arrived at the Piemont.
The hotel offers families their own rooms rather than the dorm-style accommodations found in other short-term refugee resettlements. That allows them to maintain a sense of their family unit and grieve the loss of their previous lives in private.
Residents can stay at the hotel for 60 days while deciding how to handle their uncertain future: search for more permanent residence and employment in Poland, continue to another country or return to Ukraine if the situation in their region stabilizes.
Dubina, a lawyer, would face employment challenges if she chose to stay. To practice law in Poland, she would need to submit an application to the District Bar Council or Chamber of Legal Counselors and pass an aptitude test on spoken and written Polish — a language she does not know.
Yet, as challenging as permanent relocation to Poland would be, the continued bombing in Kyiv made returning home equally daunting.
Dubina’s plans were uncertain at the time of the interview. All she knew was that she wanted to go home and return to her work.
“I have clients,” Dubina said. “I have trials. It’s time to go back to court.”
Other residents at the hotel shared Dubina’s longing for their old lives.
“One day they are ready to go back to Ukraine. The next day they’re like, ‘Obviously, there is nothing to return to.’”
Missionaries Angela Shcherban and her husband, Valera, who became houseparents at the Piemont after fleeing their own home in Ukraine, have witnessed the daily uncertainty that refugees face.
“People are very emotionally unstable,” Shcherban explained. “One day they are ready to go back to Ukraine. The next day they’re like, ‘Obviously, there is nothing to return to.’”
But providing for the refugees’ emotional and psychological needs is a challenge.
The Shcherbans are searching for a Christian psychologist in Poland who speaks Ukrainian — an uncommon combination — who could visit the hotel in person to offer counseling sessions. In the meantime, the couple do what they can to offer emotional and spiritual support, leading Bible studies or just listening to other refugees’ stories.
It was through conversations and Bible studies that Shcherban shared the Gospel with Dubina, who had avoided churches in Ukraine after deeming them corrupt.
Now the Ukrainian lawyer is beginning to study for herself what the Bible has to say.
“When we started to talk to Angela and Valera, they told us about God’s way, and I started to read my Bible,” Dubina said.
“I didn’t know who God was. … Today is the first day I started reading the Gospel of Matthew, and I feel warmth.”
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