When Russia’s years of aggression became an open invasion, our city and country faced an unprecedented crisis. Families fled, leaving their homes behind. Many lost jobs. Dads and husbands enlisted. We were determined to cushion the impact on our orphaned youth and families, who were already so vulnerable. But we couldn’t do it alone.
Then your donations began coming in. First a flood online, then stacks of envelopes in the mailbox. Familiar names and new names, anonymous donors and close friends. All the work in the video below was made possible by your gifts.
Prompted by our compassionate God, YOU showed up for our community. You’ve given generously and prayed continually. We’re so thankful.
The war continues to bring destruction and disruption all over the country. Our refugees face a longer and longer exile. New needs arise… and we’ll keep responding, through your gifts to our War Relief fund. When the time comes, the same fund will help our families return and rebuild.
In the middle of the night Friday night/early Saturday morning, enemy forces launched a barrage of missiles into Ukraine. Many military targets on the outskirts of Zhytomyr were hit, and many missiles were shot down in the skies above the city. It was a terrifying night.
We’re glad to report that all our people are safe, though the attacks killed at least one soldier in our region. We don’t know yet if this was a one-night event, or if Zhytomyr will now be targeted more frequently. We do know that the months-long quiet in our city has ended.
Even so, our staff continue serving our youth and families.
One of our Educational Outreach students, M., had planned to get married today. M. had no family or friends to help her with wedding plans, so last week Katya T. and other staff members took her to choose a dress, find a photographer, and schedule a hairdresser.
Because of Friday night’s attacks, the wedding was moved to this past Saturday. Yes, just a few hours after the final explosions. On Saturday, Katya says, “God arranged every step and M. became a wife!” Her new husband, in Zhytomyr’s territorial guard, had to go back to his guard job that very night.
Please keep this young couple in your prayers as they begin their marriage in the midst of war.
We know you’ve been praying protection over our community. We’re so grateful, and we ask you to continue praying for the safety of our staff, our students, and our families, and for an end to this terrible war.
As I began to write about my recent trip, Ukraine was marking 100 days of war with Russia. We were grieving 100 days of life in Ukraine without peace, 100 days of millions of children and women displaced from their homes, and 100 days of brave and enduring Ukrainians who hold hope in their hearts and fight to be free people.
It’s important to us that you, our Last Bell friends, know how your gifts have impacted our community since the first missile hit Kyiv in late February. Even as many of our daily tasks and locations have changed, I can say with 100% confidence that this ministry is living by its guiding principles, even as the war rages on. We’re serving back home in Zhytomyr, where the majority of our staff have remained, AND we’re serving our diaspora, dozens of young Stop the Cycle Moms and children who have been displaced to other countries. The open arms of our mission have stretched out and we are prayerfully learning how to serve this wider distribution of our community.
Last month, our ministry saw an opening for Andrey and Oksana Pankyeyev to leave Ukraine for a short period of time and check on our refugee groups around Eastern Europe. We knew how vital their visit would be; they would encourage, pray, and bring boxes from home (special items left behind in last-minute evacuations). That gave me a surprising opportunity to meet them in Europe. I looked forward to bringing supplies from the States, having some key conversations, and spending time hearing our refugees’ stories and discerning next steps.
During several days of driving to our refugee communities, and in conversations with Andrey and Oksana, I saw and heard firsthand how Last Bell’s staff members are living out our deepest values, whether in the Netherlands, Poland, or back home.
As they face their own decisions about safety and risk, our staff in Zhytomyr continue to live out healing relationships. At our Day Center they continue to love our youth boldly! It’s a safe haven for so many youth during this dark time, with caring relationships, food, and counsel.
They’re living out dynamic community, joining hands with Christian acquaintances and even strangers in the Netherlands who are practicing extreme generosity. These new friends have opened up their lives and resources to house and care for our Shelter moms and children indefinitely, partnering with our team to bring justice to the lives of our youth. I had the pleasure of watching these new Dutch mentors cheerfully use Google Translate to communicate with our young moms and play board games outside their tiny homes, each finding their own way to connect.
In both communities our staff is practicing the good news of Jesus by caring for holistic needs through counseling, Bible study, and in many other ways. Oksana is even teaching financial literacy skills via Zoom to those receiving refugee subsidies in the EU. We saw firsthand the need for those skills as we traveled and noted the high cost of living in a new country like the Netherlands.
As we report on the “state of our mission” during this horrific war, I most want to share about the vulnerabilities and emotional cost I observed this past month as I sat with our Last Bell community in person. I look forward to sharing those stories in one of our upcoming newsletters.
As so many of you are, we as a ministry are holding both atrocity AND hope at the same time. Please continue to intervene and pray for our people during these desperate times.
It’s now been over three months since the invasion. Zhytomyr hasn’t been hit recently, but Kyiv is two hours away. Last week’s bombing was a sober reminder that war is still a threat to our region, not just the East.
And strikes from earlier in the war caused overwhelming damage. The north of our oblast (region) was hit hard. Malyn, on the route from Belarus to Kyiv, was a hot zone for the first few weeks. In May at least 100 homes were destroyed there, and many citizens were trapped in cellars for days.
Almost 1/3 of Ukraine’s population evacuated. But many are now returning. Some of our evacuated families hope to return soon, to reunite with husbands and fathers and begin to rebuild.
Already we see signs of the renewal we long for. More and more students are returning to the Day Center to play games, make crafts, eat together, and spend time with our staff.
And our Shelter just welcomed another new resident. That makes two! These moms and their babies have brought our Shelter back to life. Everyone is glad to see the bedrooms occupied and hear the babies’ cries; Anya C. is cooking again.
Prior to the war, our friends at Genesis Church provided funds for new furniture at the Shelter. After a war-related delay, our Restoration Project crew installed the new beds and wardrobes, and the two new residents are making good use of them.
Our community welcomed a third new life as well! Dima and his wife Valya, both orphans, are now parents. We’re ready to offer whatever help they need to keep their little family healthy.
Thank you, friends, for your generosity, and for your prayer and fellowship during these challenges.
If you’re new to Last Bell, welcome! Perhaps a friend recommended us, or you found us through Facebook or a fundraiser. We’re so glad you’re here.
After reading our recent newsletters, perhaps you’re wondering: What is this “last bell”? And who, exactly, are orphaned youth?
In Ukraine, many children still grow up in institution-style orphanages. And some remain in abusive, neglectful families, fending for themselves from childhood. These orphaned children grow into orphaned teens and adults.
In Ukrainian schools, the Last Bell Ceremony signals the end of the school year and the freedom of summer. But after the final “last bell” at graduation, teenage orphans enter a bewildering world alone, with minimal life skills and no one to love or support them.
That’s where Last Bell Ministries steps in. We offer mentorship, medical and dental advocacy, groceries, tutoring, help with education and job-hunting, apprenticeships, parenting classes, crisis housing, and more. We’ll continue sharing about our three programs – Educational Outreach, Stop the Cycle, and the Restoration Project – over the next few weeks.
Now, orphaned young people are even more vulnerable. After intense weeks of evacuations, we’re supporting our youth and families wherever they are, whether they’re in Zhytomyr or refugees in other countries. We’re also providing war relief in our young people’s local community.
This is all made possible by your donations and your prayers. Thank you!
Several Last Bell leaders recently had the opportunity to visit with and encourage many of our evacuees. Megan Hershey, our Executive Director, flew in from the United States. Andrey and Oksana Pankyeyev drove from Ukraine, picking up Megan on the way to their first stop in Vriezenveen, the Netherlands.
Many of you are new to Last Bell, so perhaps introductions are in order! Andrey Pankyeyev is our Ministry Director in Ukraine, overseeing all facets of ministry. As a hands-on leader, he’s close to many of our youth and families. The kids love “Uncle Andrey.”
Oksana is the director of our Stop the Cycle program. Prior to the war, Stop the Cycle assisted orphans who became parents, especially single moms, by providing parenting classes, camps, mentoring, childcare, and help with basic needs like groceries and crisis housing. Now, many have evacuated. Oksana’s like a mother to these women, and they hadn’t seen her for two months. The visit began with a joyful reunion.
We’re so thankful for everyone helping our evacuees all over Europe. In Vriezeveen, our group is housed by Stichting Noodhulp Oekraïne Vriezenveen (Emergency Aid Foundation Ukraine – Vriezenveen). In addition to housing, they’re providing fun activities, new food experiences, babysitting, gym time, and so many other kinds of care.
Soon you’ll hear more about life for many of our refugee communities. Watch for that letter coming soon!
Churches here in Zhytomyr know many of the needs of their members, especially the elderly. So we learn a lot through church friends. God so often works through these everyday relationships.
The Zhytomyr oblast, or region, borders with Belarus for about 175 miles. In mid-April, Oksana and Andrey Pankyeyev drove to a village near the border. A girl from their church alerted them to elderly relatives there who needed medications, so they included the family in their deliveries. Our social media supporters prayed as they traveled so close to Belarus, and they made it back safely.
In late April, our newest team member went on her first humanitarian aid run! Lillia’s 2-month-old baby accompanied Lillia and her husband to Lillia’s home village. They delivered supplies to twenty families, including elderly church members who are now home-bound.
Around the same time, husband-wife team Sergei and Anya heard from two different churches about those in need. So they delivered bulk humanitarian supplies to both, and made some personal deliveries along the way.
Congregations also provide countless volunteers. About a week ago, staff member Sasha and church volunteer Masha Slad drove supplies to another area close to Belarus. Last Bell and Masha’s church bought the supplies together. The men—including a chaplain known to our staff—showed the team where they’ve made dugouts in case of attack.
It’s sweet to know that church communities in America are praying together for our ministry and churches here in Ukraine. Thank you!
Our Netherlands group, led by staff member Yuliana, is feeling more hopeful that they’ll be able to stay in their current location. They’re working with local officials and filling out documents.
Aside from that good news, it’s been a difficult week. The husband of one of our Stop the Cycle moms was killed in the fighting. He leaves behind a six-year-old boy and an unborn baby. At least two more husbands from our Stop the Cycle community are being deployed.
One young man is being sent to the front lines; his wife is with our Netherlands group. “They’re orphans,” Yuliana said, “and only you and I can stand in the gap to pray for them.”
Our team asks for prayer for his protection and that he would trust in Jesus; and for his wife as well. She shared, “I really feel God’s hand in everything… If I didn’t know God, I would probably go crazy.”
It’s so hard for families to be separated. One day last week, a boy from the Netherlands group fell off a bike and injured his mouth; the same day, Yuliana’s son David pulled a table onto himself, had a bike accident, and pinched his fingers in a door. The injuries will heal, but they’re a reminder that everyone is stressed, grieving, worrying about their dads and husbands, and unsure about the future.
Yuliana’s husband is also on our staff. Sasha’s days in Zhytomyr are drastically different from his family’s. He’s constantly in motion: shopping, transporting supplies and people, guarding the Shelter. He delivers meals to military checkpoints and prayer gatherings. “When the sirens go off, almost no one stops their business, because they have things to do. There’s confidence in the troops, there’s faith in God,” he said.
After his birthday in April, Sasha shared, “If you used to think ‘I’ve lived another year,’ now you think, ‘I’ve lived another day.’ This life ‘is a mist that appears for a moment and then disappears!’”
As we confront the moment-to-moment challenges of this war, we also trust God with the whole story of our ministry and our lives. We’re thankful for your prayers and your partnership through this part of the story.
In a devastating humanitarian crisis, everyone takes on new roles.
Yulia N., one of our Educational Outreach staff members, normally spends time with orphaned youth through trade school visits, activities at our Day Center, outings in the city, and one-to-one mentorship.
Before the war, Sergei C. was the foreman of our Restoration Project. A small crew of orphanage graduates apprenticed with Sergei to learn home renovation skills and restore the homes of their fellow orphans. Those projects are now on hold.
Like all our staff, Yulia and Sergei were drawn to Last Bell by their compassionate hearts and desire to serve orphaned youth and families. That same compassion drives them to help our many neighbors who are suffering.
Not long ago, Yulia and Sergei drove relief supplies to Malyn, about 50 miles from Zhytomyr. Malyn was hit hard because it lies on one of the routes between Belarus and Kyiv. Yulia shared photos of the devastation the team witnessed. “Malyn was heavily shelled just a few weeks ago. The bridge was blown up. Many houses were damaged. Many people left.”
Their cargo included 130 family-sized packages of groceries, hygiene kits, and Christian literature. For the local deliveries, they met up with volunteers from Malyn, who added children’s Bibles and Christian literature. Everyone prayed together and shared their faith with the families they met. “Mothers with children were especially open to the Gospel,” Yulia said.
The compassion of our staff is sweetly echoed by your compassion in giving. Even across the ocean, you’ve been good neighbors. Thank you!
Can you imagine being an orphaned teenager in wartime? After a childhood of neglect, abuse, and years in an orphanage, you graduate into a bewildering world alone. Just as you begin to find your way, war upends everything.
Before the invasion, our Educational Outreach staff met orphaned teens in Zhytomyr’s trade schools and social dorms, teaching life skills and developing trust relationships. Now more than ever our youth need the stability of quality time with our staff.
From the last couple of weeks: 1. visits to a social dorm for tea, snacks, and conversation; 2. Easter craft day at the Day Center; 3. ping-pong at the Day Center; 4. a special activity answering, “What is Ukraine to you?”
We continue to meet practical needs as well. Dima, 21, became homeless when his guardians evacuated. At our Day Center he’s able to shower, wash his clothes, and have hot meals. We’re supplying groceries and helping him search for jobs.
Andriy was part of our community before he moved overseas for work. In a recent check-in, he told us he has lymphoma. He moved to Prague, near friends, and his treatment will be free. But in the absence of family, our staff has been his support team, praying, listening, and encouraging.
Our community believes in Ukraine’s future, even though the present seems bleak. After the activity discussing the question “What is Ukraine to you?” staff member Yulia shared this message on behalf of the group: “We all believe that the war will end soon, and our Ukraine will rise, recover and become a prosperous country.”
Every day, we’re meeting desperate needs. And each logistical step, from purchasing to packing to delivering, is fueled by your generosity.
First, your gifts purchase bulk supplies and keep our storage rooms well-stocked. These include dry goods, hygiene supplies, diapers, baby food, and more.
Then, our staff breaks down most of the bulk items and packs them for individual families. This is a time-intensive task! Many thanks to our monthly and general fund donors; your generosity keeps our hard-working staff paid even in a crisis, when so many citizens have seen paychecks dry up.
Some of those in need come directly to the Shelter. Recently, a family fled the fighting in northeast Ukraine and moved in with a missionary in Zhytomyr who’s a friend of Last Bell. The husband and father had been killed, leaving his wife with their six children. They dropped by the Shelter to pick up clothes and other supplies.
Our team regularly delivers grocery bags and hygiene kits to our own orphan-parented families and orphaned youth. We’ve shared many of those stories over the past two months. We’ve also delivered supplies to local families on file with social services.
Zhytomyr is on the evacuation route from Kyiv to the western parts of Ukraine, so we see many evacuees. Some stay a night or two, and some stay longer. All need humanitarian aid. Two staff members and four of our youth recently delivered bulk supplies to help the city serve refugees.
Your donations provide the fuel, vehicle maintenance, and staff drivers for all these deliveries.
When our families are too far away, we take their boxes to the post office. Your gifts ship vital supplies to families in need.
The receiving families often share photos of their children surrounded by the groceries that will keep them fed and healthy. The most recent shipments included Easter sweets, toys, and New Testaments.
In gratitude, one young mom recently sent this video of her youngest boy singing a famous Ukrainian folk song. Since the war began, children sing it all over the country. The last line says, “We will cheer up our glorious Ukraine!”
YOU are helping us cheer up and restore our beloved country. Thank you!
We know many of you are interested in the day-to-day life of our staff and community in a war zone. Recently, our Ministry Director, Andrey Pankyeyev, shared what the “new normal” looks like for him.
“Every morning I wake up and start reading the news,” Andrey wrote. “Then I catch myself. First I need to read the Bible. I go to some stories in Exodus or Kings, and find places in the Psalms where David is lamenting to God. I find those stories are so similar to our situation now.”
After checking messages from staff members, church leadership, and mobile prayer groups, he touches base with relatives, neighbors, friends, and other ministries that may need help. He also tracks Last Bell’s vehicles: whether they’ll need repairs, or make deliveries that day, or need to be reserved for an upcoming trip.
Next he heads to the store, or sends another team member, to stock up on groceries and hygiene supplies for deliveries. Then he checks the Shelter, Day Center, and our various storage areas to see if they need any repairs or problems solved. He might take care of those himself, or send a staff member or volunteer.
It’s not uncommon for Ukrainians with day jobs in ministry to be church leaders. Andrey is the pastor of his small church, so his week includes sermon prep, leading a home group, and meeting with church leaders and ministry partners. The church recently had to give up renting its facility, so at the time of writing, Andrey was moving church belongings into storage.
Throughout the day, Andrey updates our Executive Director, Megan. “And a million other interesting things happen,” he wrote, listing birthday celebrations, meetings with Last Bell’s staff and directors, visiting relatives, transporting neighbors, and “driving, driving, driving.” He makes sure to rest at the end of the day before it all starts over again.
Andrey and our staff need your prayers during these busy days immersed in the reality of war. Thank you for lifting them up to our merciful God!