Olga is a survivor. The first time she escaped death was before she was even born.
She was a Chernobyl baby. That is, her mother gave birth to her soon after the world’s worst nuclear disaster occurred in Chernobyl in 1986, just 40 kilometres north of Kyiv, close to the Belarusian border. After the reactor of the nuclear power plant exploded, pregnant mothers in Ukraine were ordered to abort their babies. They were told the babies would all be deformed.
But Olga’s mother, who lived 400 kilometres away in the south of Ukraine, refused to abort her baby. Olga thus was one of the few born in that disastrous period, a perfect, beautiful child.
The second time she escaped death was on the morning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, February 24, 2022. She and her husband, Sashai, had felt God had told them to be prepared to flee, by stockpiling fuel, food and supplies, ready to move when the moment came.
That moment came at 5am that day when news came through of the attack on Kyiv. Olga and Sasha (names changed) rounded up their two sons, and other members of their church fellowship. Wasting no time in heading to the Dnieper River to cross over from the east bank to the west, they passed lines of vehicles at gas stations spilling precious time trying to buy fuel. Their small convoy crossed the Kakhovka Dam near Kherson where the river flows out into the Black Sea. Last June, the dam was blown up (most plausibly) by the Russians causing collossal flooding and environmental damage, with loss of human life and livestock.
As their convoy fled westwards, they caught sight of columns of Russian tanks heading to capture the dam as a strategic facility providing both water and electricity for Crimea. Shortly after they crossed the dam, Russian soldiers took control and began shooting all who tried to flee.
Olga is my translator today in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, where I am interacting with a few of the two thousand Ukrainian refugees in this city. Some of them were in Stockholm in May last year to attend the State of Europe Forum. They asked me then to share some of what they heard at the forum with other refugees in Cluj.
These Ukrainians are part of the biggest refugee crisis since Word War Two. Six million had to flee the country; another eight million are displaced within their own country.
Some of the attractive young Ukrainian women have expressed deep gratitude to Olga and Sasha for arranging their escape, knowing their likely fate would have been rape and death. One was traumatised after being caught in the marketplace by Russians soldiers who began shooting people at random. She lay on the ground among the dead bodies and acted as though dead for four hours as soldiers came by kicking the corpses, before escaping.
So what do you tell people who have been through such trauma? How do you bring encouragement when talk of stalemate on the battlefront is widespread, and western allies are not keeping promises of financial and military aid?
As one of our YWAM leaders in Ukraine explained recently, marathon runners reach a stage of the race where their bodies scream to give up. That is when you need determination to press through the pain barrier, he said; that’s when you need encouragement.
Moments of grace
The Ukrainians in Stockholm had been encouraged by hearing a larger picture, understanding something of God’s actions in Europe’s story, past and present. This is part of what we are talking together about today: the moments of grace after World War Two when forgiveness and reconciliation made rebuilding possible; the moments of grace which caused communism to collapse, freeing millions in Central and Eastern Europe from the deadly grip of autocratic rule; the moments of grace in the Orange Revolution of 2005 and the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, when Ukrainians began throwing off their old vassal mentality of homo sovieticus and choosing for homo maidanus, taking responsibility for their own future and freedom; the moments of grace in February last year as the feared Russian invasion was thwarted by the bravery and resilience of their president and their own troops.
We all need to cheer the Ukrainians on – the refugees in our own countries, as well as those battling to defend and liberate their homeland – to persevere on the right side of history.
This is no time to grow weary. We Europeans need to wake up to the reality that the only way to prevent an even bigger refugee crisis is to help Ukraine win this war.
Till next week,