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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! 

A video message from our Ukrainian staff

The war has been an incredible challenge. But with your support, our staff continued loving and serving orphaned youth in Zhytomyr.

In this video, you’ll hear directly from the three Ukrainians leading our team in Zhytomyr. As Andrey, Oksana, and Yulia share their hearts, please know how grateful we are for your prayers and your gifts this season. We wish we could sit down over a cup of tea with each of you!

With just ten days until the end of the year, will you make a gift to meet the needs of orphaned youth in 2023

A wartime love story

Tolik grew up in an orphanage. When we met, his wife had just divorced him and taken their baby. He needed hope. 
Olya’s mother abandoned her. When she became pregnant, her housing options all collapsed. Her abusive boyfriend kicked her out in the cold. When we met, social services was ready to send her baby to the orphanage.

At that critical moment, our staff intervened.

Tolik joined the Restoration Project crew, renovating orphans’ homes—including his own! Around the same time, Olya moved into Shelter Crisis Housing, a safe place to be a good mother.

Olya and Tolik both decided to follow Jesus. Soon after that, we found out they were dating.

At first, their relationship lacked maturity. But our staff began teaching them about their new faith and about healthy relationships. They were baptized on the same day. 

Just as Tolik was planning to propose, Russia invaded. In February, we helped Olya and her daughter Sasha evacuate. Tolik worked on humanitarian aid with the RP crew. 

Finally, in September, Olya felt safe to return. In October they were married! Now Tolik shares his renovated home with his wife and daughter.

Over the wedding weekend, two staff members were grieving their best friends’ son, who died on the front lines. Because of the war, most weddings are low-key right now. But it was still a deeply joyful occasion for our community, which loves Tolik and Olya.

This is a sweet romance, but it’s also a story about God’s love for those the world abandoned. It’s about God’s Kingdom expressed in the actions of His people—your gifts, and our staff’s care.

Friends, would you consider making a year-end gift to help orphaned youth like Tolik and Olya?

God sends the right people at the right time to “set the lonely in families.” We’re so thankful for your generosity! 

You can hold open the doors of hope for orphaned youth.

Dear friends, 

When I think about 2022, what would you guess is the first word that comes to mind? War, crisis, hatred, fear?  

Actually, the first word I think of is “faithfulness.”

When Russian invaders started to kill our people, when the streets emptied, when missiles shattered the peaceful silence, so many stayed to serve.

Our mission is to serve those who were once abandoned. Our staff was determined not to abandon them again. You prayed to God to spare our lives, to provide one more ounce of strength. And God helped us. We had everything we needed for life and ministry.

Most of our staff stayed in Zhytomyr. The day after the war began, we prayed, encouraged each other, and regrouped. Our next step was to send staff member Yuliana to Europe alongside some of our orphaned moms. Eventually, in the Netherlands, a group of believers served our moms through a “new Shelter.”

We never shut our doors to orphans, and even started to serve others: soldiers on the front lines, refugees in Ukraine, and neighbors facing a humanitarian crisis. This service showed God’s goodness to everyone who received help. 

New people stepped up in these months of war. As millions left the country, staff member Sasha crossed the border the other way. Now he works in our Day Center. Vova also joined the staff; every day for two weeks he drove refugees to the border of Ukraine. 

Like the Apostle Paul’s delight in his spiritual son Timothy, I’m delighted by the faithfulness of our staff. Working together, we direct all eyes to Jesus. 

We’re so thankful for your prayers and donations. Without your help, we would never have succeeded. Now, we ask you once again to join in our ministry with your contributions. Let’s continue faithfully serving our youth in 2023.

May God bless all of you,

Andrey Pankyeyev
Ministry Director

Repairing missile damage and finding hope: Vitya’s home

When Vitya was eight, his mother died. Later his father died. Vitya became a true orphan. Our staff taught life skills lessons at Vitya’s trade school last year, and invited him into our Educational Outreach program. He began visiting the Day Center and even brought his girlfriend.

After the death of his parents, Vitya remained the sole owner of a partial house that was previously used as a barn. It was in terrible shape.

Then the war began, and a bomb was dropped near Vitya’s home. Many people died, and one of Vitya’s neighbors went to the hospital with shrapnel injuries. The impact cracked Vitya’s ceiling and shattered his dishes. He found a bomb fragment in his yard. 

 But in the middle of the destructiveness of war, our Restoration Project crew is always ready to make something new. 

Vitya made a few repairs himself, but couldn’t do the rest on his own. So our crew decided to help.

What could have been a disaster soon turned into an opportunity.

Vitya worked hard alongside the guys. Now, he’s RP’s newest crew member. After renovating his own home, Vitya will make homes safe for other orphaned youth and families. 

The Restoration Project is starting its eighth year! Though the crew members rotate out every few years, we keep seeing new depth and maturity. Recently Sasha was teaching Vitya how to lay tiles.

So much is possible in a loving community. Our orphaned young men are learning skills and developing the confidence to pass them on. Thank you for supporting this work! 

Learning life skills in a bomb shelter

Every year, teens age out of orphanages all over the Zhytomyr region. Many of them come to trade schools in our city, the regional capital. You can read more about what school is like for orphans here.

For many years, we’ve met these new orphaned youth in their trade schools. Each autumn, our staff teaches life skills classes right in their dorms. Then we invite them to the Day Center, begin mentorship, and meet all kinds of needs.

This year, the war changed everything.

Martial law meant many students began the year online. When missiles hit Zhytomyr, even more went online. We couldn’t meet them because we couldn’t gather at their schools.

Our staff continued working with orphaned students they knew already. The Day Center provided hot lunches, crafts, games, and conversations about important topics. We took youth to doctors and dentists, distributed groceries and hygiene kits, and hosted home groups. And we brought tea, snacks, and conversation to a social dorm where 30 of our youth live. 

Finally, in late October, we held our first trade school gathering—in the bomb shelter of a school basement. “As soon as we entered the institution, the anxiety began,” wrote staff member Katya. “But that didn’t stop us, and we met three new orphan girls.” 

Thank you for helping us welcome these young women into our community, even as air raid sirens are sounding. Because of your support, they’ve taken the first step toward a hopeful future.  

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Last Bell Ministries

Loving and restoring orphanage graduates toward life and community.


PO Box 30671
Indianapolis, IN 46230