Refugee crisis in Ukraine: scenes of suffering, beauty lessons

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Standing at the Ukrainian border, I saw an old man start sobbing uncontrollably as he crossed Romania to safety. He leaned against one of the barriers and pointed to the sky, his clothes covered in mud, his body frozen in pain and unable to move forward. The volunteers told us he was saying his house was bombed.

All around him I watched the endless stream of refugees wearily crossing Romania. He was falling at night and the temperatures had dropped below freezing. It was a constant stream of people. Some were on foot, others by bus or car, most of them women and children. One of the officials said that just the day before, 15,000 people had passed through this crossing point, a vivid example of what has become Europe’s fastest growing refugee crisis since World War II.

MIlana, nineteen months old, is one of many Ukrainian refugees who stopped at Husi camp in Romania for hot tea and a snack, and to take a break from the long bus ride.

MIlana, nineteen months old, is one of many Ukrainian refugees who stopped at Husi camp in Romania for hot tea and a snack, and to take a break from the long bus ride.

(World vision)

I have seen many mothers carrying babies and small children. Exhaustion was written on their faces. They were completely exhausted from the journey, from the weight of the unknown future and from the thrill of having to leave their husbands, fathers, brothers and older children.

I HAVE SEEN UP CLOSE UKRAINIANS SUFFERING AND WE HAVE TO CONTINUE TO SEND CRITICAL HELP, LETHAL AND NON-LETHAL

So much pain, right there on display in front of me.

And probably right there on display in front of you, if you’ve been watching any news in the past few weeks. But it’s not just limited to Ukraine.

Even before the war in Ukraine, nearly 426 million children were already living in conflict zones.

Even before refugees fled Ukraine, more people than ever had been forced to flee their homes: 84 million people. This is more than a quarter of the entire US population.

Add that to the news headlines about hunger and famine and the stories of our staff in places like Afghanistan, where things have gone so badly that we’ve heard of parents making the unthinkable choice to sell one of their children just to afford. the food to save another from hunger.

It’s the kind of real, sometimes shocking and harsh beauty that changes us forever.

Heartbreaking. Chaotic. Absolutely overwhelming. So much pain in the world that it’s hard to process. Our first instinct may be to turn away, but I believe that if we examine the pain, we will also see the beauty. It’s the kind of real, sometimes shocking and harsh beauty that changes us forever. And for me as a Christian, it is a beauty that brings me closer to God.

Beauty like Ukrainian babies I saw hugging their mothers or kissing their cheeks to bring comfort in that rare moment when women’s steely composure slipped.

Bogdon, 16, shares a moment with his father Vladimir.  They are currently in a shelter in Romania after fleeing Ukraine.  (World vision)

Bogdon, 16, shares a moment with his father Vladimir. They are currently in a shelter in Romania after fleeing Ukraine. (World vision)

Or closer to home for me, a refugee father named Vladimir. He took care of his 16 year old son Bogdon who has special needs. It was clearly a struggle for them to embark on this journey, especially with Bogdon’s physical challenges. Finding a way to shower and even just moving from one area of ​​the shelter to another was so difficult.

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But Bogdon’s father was incredibly tender with his son and I could see the love between them. At regular intervals during our conversation Bogdon would call “dad” and touch his father’s face or hold his hand, wanting his father’s attention. This reminded me of my special needs daughter, Andrea, who also calls me “Dad” and so often does the same thing. A beautiful love in the midst of pain.

Dima, 11, and Sonia, 5, hug their mother, Marina, who gets excited by sharing the story of their trip from Ukraine.  (World vision)

Dima, 11, and Sonia, 5, hug their mother, Marina, who gets excited by sharing the story of their trip from Ukraine. (World vision)

And that old man, sobbing and unable to continue. There was also beauty there. Immediately a volunteer approached and held him tightly in a hug. In a few minutes he was able to continue. He struggled onto a bus headed for the next stop on his journey. Two strangers who will probably never meet again. And in that human connection: beauty. The kind I will remember for the rest of my life.

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As Christians, we know that God is present in pain. This is the starting point for embracing beauty. And it is realized in our response to suffering. It is there when we look at every person in crisis and see Jesus, and we remember his words in Matthew 25:35: “Because I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you invited me to … ”

I saw those familiar words vividly come to life on the Ukrainian border as volunteers and aid workers helped those fleeing the conflict. Seeing that kind of beauty changes us. It strengthens us to be part of the solution, but only if we are willing to take a first step in the pain.

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