Mar 3 - border pp walk there

Today, exactly a month into the Ukrainian war, many families fleeing their war-stricken homes are doing so on foot. Soaring fuel prices and damaged roads have made travelling by vehicle that much more difficult. All photos courtesy of Naty Tully unless otherwise stated.

They sit around the dining table – women, children, the elderly – singing songs of hope in Russian.

“It is well … it is well …”

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Ukrainian refugees singing in Russian with their Moldovan hosts. Songs have always been a source of solace for the Russian people.

Except all has not been well in their lives.

They are Ukrainians who, overnight, have become refugees. They have lost everything in the hope of saving their lives. Their country has been attacked, bombed, invaded.

But there is hope.

They, at least, have made it to neighbouring Moldova and have found sanctuary in the homes of locals.

“They were fed more than physically, they were fed spiritually, too.”

There is a little bit more serendipity in all this. Some three generations ago – 1940 – Moldova was made part of the Soviet Union.

Wrote Naty Tully, who grew up in Moldova and whose husband pastors the International Church of Bucharest in Romania: “We spoke Romanian, they forced us to learn Russian. Oh, how it comes in handy now.”

Indeed, it has. Because of this slice of shared history, the Moldovan hosts and Ukrainian refugees have a common language – Russian.

This has allowed Naty’s father, who is a pastor of a church in Moldova and who has planted most of the churches in the country’s south, to more easily share the Gospel with the Ukrainians he is helping.

Continued Naty on her post: “Only one of them is a believer. He brought them supplies we sent from Bucharest. They were fed more than physically, they were fed spiritually, too.”

Here is the Ukrainian war told in photos taken not by journalists but by ordinary men and women from Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and Poland who, in the midst of misery, have seen miracles.

Miraculous survivals in Ukraine

According to Pastor Roman Danylyshyn who pastors a church in Poland called New Life in Kraków and knows many pastors in Ukraine, prayers have wrought miracles.

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The shadow of a life that once was. What used to be the lovely cities of Ukraine, like the piano, are now scorched and scarred.

This is Odessa, a major seaport in Ukraine and one the earliest targets of the Russians. Naty writes: “Prayer is so powerful. We hear of miracles in Ukraine … bombs that didn’t go off.”

Buildings pockmarked by shelling, this is one of the places the Ukrainians described to Naty as being “fine”.

He told Salt&Light; “Those fighting in the Ukraine call to say there are miracles. The place they thought they would die in, they escaped. God is helping. Somehow, they think there is no escape, no chance to survive, but they do.”

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The UN says some 3.3 million Ukrainians have fled the country and another 6.5 million have been displaced internally. But that means there are more than 75% of Ukrainians still left in the country. They live precarious lives. Food and medicine are in low supply and their safety hangs on the balance.

This is Uncle Mitea from Ukraine. He is among those who stayed behind to help his countrymen. He travels out of the country to buy supplies to take back home to his people.

Children in Ukraine with the supplies the Romanians and Moldovans in Naty’s network managed to get into the country. Wrote Naty in her Facebook post: “My father met today successfully with a relative from Ukraine to give food supplies and gas.” In a post the next day, she added; “Pray that we can send medicine inside Ukraine. It’s harder to get these in the country. Great need for pain meds and flu meds.”

Ukrainian churches are also seeing an upsurge in attendance. 

Said Ps Roman: “They are going to church to pray. Some are open to the Gospel, on the way. Some are accepting Jesus. 

“The pastors in Ukraine are not coming to Poland. They are staying to pray, to help. They are helping kids with no parents, no families. They are united. It is wonderful to see.” 

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A pastor in Ukraine who helped over 700 Ukrainians, mostly orphans, escape the country.

As dangerous as it is to remain in Ukraine, it is as dangerous to enter the country. Yet, some willingly do.

Those who volunteer to drive the supplies from Romania to Ukraine risk their lives with every trip. Naty reported that God has been protecting the drivers. Supplies have been successful transported across the border. 

She added: “Some of my mom’s family from Ukraine crossed into Moldova through a less popular border to get supplies and were able to take it all through the border.

“Praise Jesus for answered prayers. Some border patrols are very difficult. [The] car in front of them had more trouble. They were covered in prayer.”

Personal transformations in Poland

Since the war started in Ukraine, Ps Roman’s church of some 60 members has been helping the constant stream of refugees pouring into Poland.

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Not all Ukrainian refugees who arrive in Poland come with the relevant documents. Ps Roman helps those without proper papers get legal documentation but it can be expensive. “Some don’t even have their birth certs or passports,” he said. All photos in this section courtesy of Ps Roman Danylyshyn.

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Many did not expect the war to happen, which is why they came to Poland unprepared. “It’s like they were standing at home and they just stepped out. One woman came in her pyjamas because she left in such a hurry,” Ps Roman told Salt&Light.

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Apart from finding the Ukrainian refugees a place to stay, the churches also have to buy them clothes. Since the war started, Ps Roman has been busy stocking up his car with supplies to bring to the refugees in Poland.

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They have rescue children without parents, including a two-day-old baby. Explained Ps Roman: “Some of them, their parents have already died. Volunteers are finding kids on the street and bringing them to us or connecting them to children’s homes. It’s really difficult to do papers for these kids because we have no information about them. We can’t find their relatives.”

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Mattresses, medicines and food – these are being bought, packed and transported to where the refugees are sheltered in Poland. On top of shepherding his church, Ps Roman has found himself in this new ministry brought upon the churches in the region by the war.

So far, they have 340 families in their care. This may be a drop in the ocean of the over 2 million Ukrainian refugees in Poland, but it is overwhelming for his city church.

“People are doing more good things for the Ukrainian refugees, not just caring for themselves. I have seen the changes.”

Yet, in the midst of this, there is hope.

“People are thinking over the situation, their lives, their beliefs. God is opening the eyes of so many people now,” said Ps Roman.

“People are becoming more open to God. They are doing more good things for the Ukrainian refugees, not just caring for themselves. I have seen the changes.

Ps Roman has also seen more people going to church.

“And (the Ukrainian refugees) are believing in God and praying because they found shelter and people are helping them.  

“Everything happens in God’s time.”

Rescues in Romania

Nearly a month since Naty and her husband Ps Bill Tully started rescuing Ukrainian refugees from the border, the operation has become a lot more organised.

“Lots of refugees attended church with their hosts. Some churches offered translation in Russian.”

They now have a system of accountability for the funds coming in, someone to manage accommodations and the people hosting the refugees, a team of drivers and translators, volunteers to help cook for the refugees, a technical team as well as night shift co-ordinators since the refugees can come in at any time.

This has allowed them to host up to 100 refugees at any time.

“We have a growing network in the city and in the country for overflow, long-termers, or random phone calls needing help in different parts of Romania,” wrote Naty.

“We are creating a website to have a trustworthy database with churches and volunteers we trust.”

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The border between Romania and Ukraine. One of Naty’s missionary friends Costi, who is a director of a refugee centre that works with orphans, has been volunteering as a driver to pick people up from the border. At times, he sends supplies from Romania to Moldova for the Ukrainian refugees there. Wrote Naty in one post: “Today he’s taking supplies from our church to my dad. As he’s driving, peaceful tanks are in front of him. We don’t know much about where they are heading.”

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Once Ukrainians cross the border to safety, they are allowed to exchange only a small amount of Ukrainian money. Not everyone has Euros or or US dollars. So, they are in need of financial help.

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When the Ukrainian refugees enter Romania, they are received by a church at the border that Naty is working with. This church is the first place of rest, warmth and safety for the refugees since they left their homes in Ukraine.

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The church at the Romanian border turned into a shelter for Ukrainian refugees.

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Because many would have left home with little more than the clothes on their backs, Naty prepares grab bags filled with goodies to welcome the Ukrainian refugees when they enter Romania. Each has been painstakingly packed by volunteers.

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Warm meals and warm hospitality on the Romanian side for the Ukrainian refugees.

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Food and medical supplies – there are volunteers round the clock shopping for supplies and packing them. As fast as the orders are filled up, they are used up as well, so great is the number of Ukrainian refugees coming in.

More Ukrainian refugees have successfully arranged travel to Germany via Hungary and to Spain after arriving in Romania. “Our networks in Budapest have been very helpful with this,” said Naty.

Naty has also extended her network of aid beyond Romania so that the Ukrainian refugees have safe passage from one country to another.

“Three women accepted the Lord in our church. Many more received Bibles all over Romania.”

“We are starting to create a database of all international churches in Europe as we send our guests their way ‘to water the seeds planted here’.

“We connected with a big church in Oradea BBSO willing to send buses (50 spots each) to take refugees for free to Vienna. From there it’s easier to connect to most EU countries. (We are) grateful for all believers connecting and supporting each other.”

Meanwhile, they are seeing God make something good out of the very bad.

On March 7, Naty reported on Facebook: “Today, lots of refugees attended church with their hosts. Some churches offered translation in Russian. We started handing out Bibles. Jesus is our hope.”

Members at Naty’s church, International Church of Bucharest, praying for the non-believing refugees.

Witnessing suffering up close has made the believers turn more to prayer.

The International Church of Bucharest, Naty and Ps Bill’s church, is one of those including Russian translations to their regular service to accommodate the Ukrainian refugees. They print out sermon notes and worship songs in Russian, and have translations for their Sunday School classes as well.

Ps Bill is helping the Ukrainian refugees in others ways. He is counseling four different couples and running five Bible study groups on top of his usual duties running the church.

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Ps Bill (left) with brother Dennis who also had to flee Kiev with his family. Dennis has ministry experience and helps translate the sermon into Russian as needed.

As this article was being written, Naty contacted Salt&Light with an update: “Yesterday three women accepted the Lord in our church. Many more received Bibles all over Romania.”

The Tullys are considering planting a Russian church in Romania for the Ukrainian refugees in anticipation of more becoming Christians.

Mercies in Moldova

As of March 18, over 300,000 Ukrainian refugees have crossed the Moldovan border. About a third have chosen to stay rather than venture elsewhere where the culture and the language are different.

This little girl telling Naty’s father that “bandits made me leave my home”.

Naty’s father with supplies donated by the churches in Bucharest, Romania for the Ukrainian refugees in Moldova.

Moldovan churches do not have enough resource on their own to feed the refugees but the fellowship of believers in Romania have come in to lend a hand.

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Though it should be spring by now, the weather remains bitterly cold. At times, the mercury falls below 0ºC. Coupled with strong winds, even walking outdoors is difficult. Yet, the volunteers willingly brave the elements to transport wood to keep the people warm.

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Another tractor loaded with wood. They managed to deliver wood to 15 churches out of the 44 churches to keep everyone warm.

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Moldovan Member of Parliament Ion Groza with food that he has prepared for the Ukrainian refugees at the Moldovan-Ukrainian border.

Naty has been hard at work raising funds to help them. So far, 44 churches in her network in Moldova are receiving funds to help the Ukrainian refugees.

Naty’s father (second, left) with some Ukrainian refugees in Moldova. There are over 250 Ukrainian refugees being hosted by Moldovan churches in Naty’s network and the numbers are growing daily.

Ukrainian children being hosted in Moldova.

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These little Ukrainian boys had been picking up sticks on the rustic Moldovan roads, planning to play with them. All their toys had been left behind when they fled the war. Naty’s mother was able to bring a few toys to them. They were so excited, they did not even wait for an invitation to dive into the bag of toys.

Even as God is blessing them with resources, He is also bringing in the souls.

Naty told Salt&Light: “Yesterday on March 19, one woman got baptised in Moldova. That triggered a couple of locals to get baptised after the service.”

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Naty’s father with Russian Bibles. He has asked for more to be printed. A tireless evangelist, he has been sharing the Gospel with the Ukrainian refugees under his care.

Added Naty: “Let’s never waste opportunities to share the Gospel.”


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About the author

Christine Leow

Christine believes there is always a story waiting to be told, which led to a career in MediaCorp News. Her idea of a perfect day involves a big mug of tea, a bigger muffin and a good book.

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