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Author: Emily

Our refugees after a winter in Europe

In our Impact Report, we shared that 150 of our people evacuated, and about half have returned. But many remain in Europe. Over the winter, they tried to adjust to their new homes.

In the Netherlands, some moms tried to work, but ran into challenges. They often biked many miles in the rain, then got sick. And their low-paying jobs made them ineligible for the aid given to refugees. So they’re not working anymore. 

The younger children love their teacher. She’s very creative! The high-schoolers struggled to adjust. They have a long bike ride to school, and they miss their teachers and friends in Ukraine.

Thankfully, these families have a lot of support. When Yuliana moved back to Ukraine, she asked Angelika to be the group leader. Angelika graduated from Stop the Cycle many years ago and is a trusted member of the Last Bell community. She drives our moms in the ministry car to shop for groceries and clothing. Student Nastya helps with babysitting.

A Ukrainian pastor is providing Bible studies, and each family has a Dutch helper. Last Bell supplied a stock of medications the families often use. 

The families that settled in Poland, Ireland, Austria, Latvia, and Sweden are doing well and have the support they need. All our families believe the war will be over soon, and they’re ready to come home! Meanwhile, our moms in the Netherlands sent some prayer requests: 

  • Anya S.’s daughter Eva has serious dental surgery soon, and she’s very worried.
  • Angelika asks for prayer for her family, for her spiritual life, for strengthened faith, and that it would be easier for her children to handle school in two countries.
  • Bogdana prays “for peace and victory in Ukraine.”

Thank you, friends, for supporting our youth at home and abroad!

Who grieves with orphaned youth?

In Ukraine, funerals for young soldiers have become commonplace—each one for someone’s beloved child, brother, dad, cousin, or friend. During one recent service, our Olya buried her brother. 

Olya is an orphan and single mom who previously lived at the Shelter. This fall, we had the joy of witnessing her marriage to a young man from our Restoration Project crew.   

Olya’s brother Zhenya, a military veteran, began serving again when Russia invaded. In December, our Prayer Circle received news that Zhenya’s unit was in a terrible fire. All the bodies were badly burned, and Zhenya’s death was almost certain. But his family sent away for DNA confirmation. “We weep with her in these terrible days,” wrote staff member Oksana.

Three months later, the results came back. “This day was very hard,” Olya wrote, “like receiving a sentence, because you no longer hope, you know he’s gone. His life ended at the age of 22.”

Zhenya’s funeral in late March
Grandmothers from the villages always come out to honor fallen soldiers

“It is difficult, but the Lord is with me,” Olya wrote. “I have received incredible support from my church family.”

So many orphaned youth carry their joys and heavy griefs alone. But Last Bell walks alongside our youth in old hurts and new ones. Thank you for supporting our staff as they “mourn with those who mourn.”

Confidence for our youth through the clothing pantry

Just two weeks ago, Vitaliy (below, left) visited our clothing pantry for the first time. Like many orphaned students, he doesn’t have the resources to buy many basic necessities. A physical disability adds other challenges. Staff member Sasha sent him home with clothes, a new jacket, and a hygiene kit.

Our pantry is always well-stocked, thanks to friends all over the world! Volunteers from First Presbyterian Church (Noblesville, IN) collect and ship boxes of coats, vests, and clothes. The nonprofit Changing Footprints donates shoes, which our volunteers pick up, sort, and ship to Ukraine.

Our staff organizes everything, then welcomes youth and moms to pick out just the right thing. The kids too find something to wear that makes them smile. Then our staff decides which extras can go east for refugees.

When our clothing pantry doesn’t have the right item or size, your donations make a way. Valera joined our community a few years ago, and attends a local trade school. Two years ago, we bought him new shoes. But he’s a growing young man, and in March, Sasha took him to buy shoes again! Our team, and your generosity, make sure our youth won’t be embarrassed by ill-fitting or worn-through clothes and shoes.

Valera was so grateful for the help. Thank you, friends, for meeting the fundamental needs of our youth!

Building a Better Kitchen: Shelter renovation update

Last week, we shared about our youth and families cooking together. One photo stood out to us: Anya and Karina making lasagna. The photo looks normal… but they were actually cooking in a deconstructed kitchen! 

Karina cooking in a construction zone

Crisis housing is a critical part of serving orphaned youth who become parents. The Shelter provides a safe place for these families when they have nowhere else to go. 

Everybody loves the Shelter’s warm, welcoming kitchen. But it rapidly outgrew our community. The kitchen is now undergoing renovation and expansion, thanks to a grant from Genesis Church in Carmel, IN.

Our innovative Restoration Project crew relocated the various functions of the kitchen. The refrigerator and chopping/prep are in the hallway. While installing the floor, the crew removed the stove. At one point the dishwasher was in the bathroom! 

Despite the challenges of renovating a working kitchen, our crew is creating a beautiful space – big enough that everyone can cook and eat together.

Crisis housing is just one kind of support available to orphaned moms. Parenting training, groceries, and other resources enable them to make a better life for their kids.

Thank you for helping us build this safe, supportive community!

Feeding bodies and souls in wartime

Two weeks ago, Russia launched another barrage of missiles. A few Ukrainians were killed and many injured. In our city, Zhytomyr, people lost electricity, heat, and water, and the region has faced rolling blackouts. 

In these frightening times, orphaned youth need care and support even more. What better invitation into a safe, loving community than cooking and eating meals together? The body is fed, and the spirit is nourished.

During life skills lessons at the social dorm, staff and orphaned youth often cook together. Recent projects included pizza and hamburgers. Two weeks ago our youth learned how to make deruny (potato pancakes). Many couldn’t prepare even staple Ukrainian foods like this, since they grew up in institutions or unsafe families.

Guys making potato pancakes

Orphaned students often experience food insecurity. We help with bags of groceries, and gatherings at the Day Center or social dorm always include snacks. Our students know they won’t be hungry in our community.  

Snacks on the table at the Day Center

When the war began, many moms evacuated; our Shelter Crisis Housing facility emptied out. Since then, six orphaned moms have moved in. The Shelter is full and thriving! Housemother Anya C. often cooks with our young moms. Recently, staff member Anya H. (a former orphan herself) helped Karina make lasagna.

Even under the everyday threat of attack, God’s people are creating a pocket of warmth and security for orphans in Zhytomyr. Thank you for supporting our team!

Staying faithful to our hurting community

As we hear reports of soldiers killed, homes and cities destroyed, and other brutalities of war, it would be easy to just close our eyes and pray it will be over soon. But that’s not what God calls us to. Because of our hope in Jesus, we remain “steadfast, immovable, always abounding” in the work God has given us. 

Here in the U.S., as we look to the next weeks and months, we ask:

  • How can we remain present with our suffering community—sharing their joy and grief?
  • How can we give extra support to our staff as they serve?
  • How can we be flexible and open to the wartime needs of our orphaned youth and families?

Our staff members answer that last question with their hands and feet, daily serving our youth even as air raids are sounding. Please keep lifting them up in prayer. They shared these specific requests: 

Pray that the Lord gives peace to the heart, and takes away any kind of panic. Pray that we rely entirely on him.

Pray for wisdom to deal with danger rightly, not acting out of fear or carelessness. 

Pray for supernatural power to comfort and support others’ faith.

Pray for our relatives and loved ones who are fighting… may the Lord protect them and bring them back home.

Thank you for your gifts, your prayers, and your words of encouragement over the past year. We know you will continue to walk beside us in faith! 

A recent sleepover for our girls’ group. They made pie, watched a movie, sang praise songs, and talked. They also prayed for Ukraine—for the government, for soldiers, for people who lost their relatives or homes, for the economy, for pastors, and more. These petitions are a normal part of communal prayer now.

What is the new normal in Ukraine?

We’re now a few days past the one-year mark of the war that has devastated our country. What does that mean for our community in Zhytomyr?

Many experiences that were startling and new at the beginning of the war have now become commonplace—but with the same emotional and psychological cost. Our staff shared a list of these everyday experiences:

  • Hearing from a loved one, “Today they handed me a draft notice.”
  • The lights going off (rare in Zhytomyr, but in other cities the lights go off twice a day for four hours)
  • Leaving a full grocery cart at the checkout because an air raid siren began and the store immediately closes
  • Receiving the message from a teacher: “All the kids are in the basement; we’re starting a physics lesson.”
  • Consoling someone whose loved one died in the war
  • When you haven’t seen someone for a long time, hearing the question: “What country are you in?”
  • Receiving requests for help from refugees or war widows
  • Hearing an air raid siren and knowing that even if your kids were sleeping, their kindergarten teachers would wake them up and take them to the basement
  • Understanding the vocabulary of military equipment
  • Crying as you pray for the families on the front lines

Former orphan Anya H. works overnight shifts in our Shelter facility. During the day, she’s a full-time doctor. She shared that when she hears missiles passing over now, she feels cold and blank. She tells her patients, “I’ll register you after the air raid siren.”

The war has disrupted each person’s life differently: job loss, family separation, extra reponsibilities… and everyone feels the weight of fear and loss. Please pray for their faith to be strengthened and for God’s peace.

Anya translating the instructions and interactions on English-language medications sent by volunteers

One year of war: grief, worry, and gratitude

One year ago today, Russia launched a full-scale invasion into our country. Even as this newsletter goes out, we’re watching carefully for escalated attacks. And everyone is recalling the weeks when the war began, memories that are very painful for Ukrainians.

The context of our ministry has changed drastically since February 24, 2022. We want to share what day-to-day ministry is like in Ukraine now, and asked our staff to tell us about their griefs, worries, and new wartime routines. In this special series, we begin with a letter from Stop the Cycle director Oksana. 

February 21, 2023

Yesterday there was another funeral. The beloved uncle of a young girl from our church died on the front lines. A teenage daughter was left without a father; a wife, in great sorrow, cannot recover.

This is the fourth death our little church has faced in two months. Olya’s brother died, Lida’s beloved cousin died, Alona buried her father, and now another death. Lida’s husband and Alona’s younger brother are at the front. Each death increases our worry about those fighting.

Inga’s husband was seriously injured and is undergoing operations. Olya’s father and two other relatives of church members are being treated for injuries. It’s a relief that they’re no longer in danger. But most likely after recovery they’ll go to war again.

Death is scary, it’s an irreparable loss after which one must somehow learn to continue living… and it’s very scary to face it so often. At almost every service now, our church cries. We talk a lot about death, the trials that constrict our souls, and those questions to God that most likely will not be answered. Sometimes it seems there is no strength left to console anyone; with each death it becomes more and more difficult.

But we want to be steadfast in our faith, and strengthen the faith and hope of those whose hearts are broken. This is how our people live now. The price of victory is unbearably high. We really need your prayers.

Oksana P.

And we know you are praying. Thank you for walking with our community in good times and in these very difficult times. As we look back over a year of war, we see not only aggression and violence, but also faithfulness, generosity, and steadfast love. We’re grateful for your solidarity with God’s people in Ukraine. 

Oksana welcomes families to the Shelter in the first few weeks of war

Photos: Discovering identity with orphaned students

After years of receiving the message that they are nobodies with no future, many orphanage graduates struggle to plan for one. But with help, our youth can learn who they are and break the cycles of poverty and neglect in their families.

In January, our new volunteer Krystya shared about remembering the old year and setting goals for the new year. This is a great time of year to make hopeful plans! 

A week after Krystya’s lesson, staff member Yulia visited the social dorm where many orphaned students live. Everybody made pizza together, then took personality inventories and discussed them. “Who am I?” is another big question for teenagers. That’s especially true for orphans, whose families didn’t provide a stable identity. 

Visiting orphaned youth where they live

Our staff use these interesting conversations to tell our youth, who were discarded by their families and society, that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Whether at the Day Center, the social dorm, or in one-to-one meetings, orphaned students are learning they are somebodies and their future matters. 

As they plan for that future, our team follows up with practical help. Your gifts make it all possible, even during the challenges of war. Thank you! 

A new home to ring in the new year

Ruslana is a orphaned mom in our Stop the Cycle program. She recently broke her leg while playing with her daughter, and lost her job. 

At the same time, she received an offer that could make a big difference in her life. Sometimes, the Ukrainian government allocates funds for an orphan to buy a home. Ruslana received just such an offer.

In most cases when orphans are offered these funds, a home is never bought and after a year the funds are retracted. Why is that? 

The answer is closely tied to why we called our program “Stop the Cycle.” Orphaned young people often lack basic resources like finances, financial literacy, family help, and knowledge about how society works. Many orphans are in a catch-22 situation: they don’t have the money or know-how to take advantage of offers that could help them. So often the next generation is orphaned, too. 

But Ruslana broke the cycle. In partnership with a local social worker, we helped her fill out the necessary documents and visit the right offices. And your donations paid the document fees, a gift that was multiplied a hundredfold in the form of her new home!

Ruslana with the deed and keys to her new home

Staff member Yuliana wrote, “If it weren’t for your donations, Ruslana and her daughter would be out on the street this winter. There were many different obstacles, but with God’s help, today Ruslana and her daughter Dasha have a roof over their heads and hope for a happy future.”

Thank you, friends, for helping our youth make a new future for their families!

Belonging at Christmas: Gatherings with orphaned students and families

You did it! You met and exceeded our fundraising goal. We can move ahead with all our plans for serving orphanage graduates in 2023. Your gifts will provide Christian mentorship, educational help, medical advocacy, groceries and medications, crisis housing, and so much more. 

And in spite of the war, thanks to your generosity everyone celebrated the holidays in style—always remembering that Jesus is why we celebrate.

In mid-December, our Day Center filled up with 45 orphaned students! We talked about Christmas and sang Ukrainian Christmas carols with an accordion. All the students received candy and a flashlight to use during blackouts. Staff member Yulia wrote, “Who would have thought a simple thing like a flashlight would make us so happy this winter?”

See photos on Facebook: Christmas at the Day Center 2022

The past few years, our students received gifts from ministry friends in Ukraine. This year, our Dutch friends took on the project. They joyfully shared about our students, collected funds, bought gifts, and shipped boxes to Ukraine. Along the way, one company donated 50 gifts, another donated hygiene products, and individuals paid for gifts. The boxes arrived just before Christmas.

See photos on Facebook: Gifts for Students 2022

Our Shelter hosted two Christmas gatherings this year. The first was for our families in residence at Shelter Crisis Housing. The second included our larger Stop the Cycle community—everyone who comes to parenting classes. We read scripture and opened gifts. Our orphaned parents received a lot of love, and witnessed a model of how their families can celebrate holidays in a healthy way.

See photos on Facebook: Two Christmases at the Shelter 2022

As we consider the season of ministry ahead, we’re so thankful for your faithful partnership. Happy New Year!