In three weeks, Presbyterians have donated nearly $1 million toward humanitarian relief in Ukraine

As always, PC(USA) ministries including Presbyterian Disaster Assistance are in it for the long haul

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The railway station in Lviv, Ukraine, is depicted earlier this month. (Photo by Antti Yrjönen/FCA)

LOUISVILLE — In the three weeks or so since the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) issued an appeal for help, Presbyterians have donated nearly $1 million in response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

“We are grateful for that,” the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, director of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, said Wednesday during the Lifting Up Ukraine: PC(USA)’s Humanitarian Response webinar, which you can view by clicking here or here.

During the first week of the appeal, PDA sent a $50,000 emergency grant to its partners working in countries bordering Ukraine. More will be sent this week. “It’s a small amount for now,” Kraus said. “We will move to larger grants in the mid-term and long-term” to help partners develop, among other things, sustainable housing solutions.

“All our partners have said they’re in this for the long run,” said Susan Krehbiel, PDA’s Associate for Refugees & Asylum. Click here to read a story about how PDA and its partners are helping in Ukraine.

Click here to give to the PC(USA) response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and Central Europe.

Also appearing during Wednesday’s 53-minute webinar were Ellen Smith, World Mission’s regional liaison for eastern Europe, and Sue Rheem, Representative to the United Nations at the Presbyterian Ministry at the UN. In addition to PDA, World Mission and PMUN, the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program participated in Wednesday’s webinar.

While describing regional differences within Ukraine, Smith said that right now Ukraine “is united in a way it’s never been. But today it’s not localized conflict — it’s war.”

The many partners World Mission has worked with in the region for many years “can use your prayers because the stress is enormous,” Smith said.

So far, about 6.5 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced, Rheem said. More than 3.5 million have fled across international borders — more than 2 million of them having sought refuge in Poland. More than 12 million of Ukraine’s 43.2 million people are stranded within affected areas across Ukraine, unable to leave due to ongoing clashes, the destruction of bridges and roads and other reasons, including “a lack of information about where to go,” according to Rheem. Learn more here. Read about the humanitarian response from the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) here.

Sue Rheem

“We in the PC(USA) have a distinct way of responding,” Krehbiel said. “We are in relationship with Reformed churches and ecumenical partners in central Europe.”

One partner, Hungarian Reformed Church Aid, has used 3,500 volunteers to distribute 250 tons of food. They’ve served 140,000 refugees across 10 locations.

International Orthodox Christian Charities in neighboring Romania used PDA grant funds in two cities near the border, working with refugee reception centers in partnership with the government, other organizations and volunteers. All five of the PC(USA)’s partners in the region “note the need for support for people on the move,” Krehbiel said. In addition, local churches are offering welcoming care.

Susan Krehbiel

“PDA looks for partners with local experience and areas of expertise,” Krehbiel said, “so we can make sure we are providing much-needed services to all in need.”

As Ukrainians began arriving in places like Poland, about 80% had a contact person or family they could turn to, with up to 20% of new arrivals having nowhere to go. More recently, those numbers have reversed, according to Krehbiel, and refugees are thus more susceptible to, for example, human traffickers offering them a place to go.

“Most [offering help] are well-intentioned, but it’s confusing, and it provides the perfect cover for traffickers preying on refugees, many of whom arrive tired and disoriented,” Krehbiel said.

“The situation is extremely dynamic. Women’s participation and leadership is important for women’s protection,” Krehbiel said. “The same is being said about other vulnerable communities within the refugee flow,” including older people, those in the LGBTQIA+ community, people living with disabilities and the Roma population.

Ellen Smith

When asked during a question-and-answer period about how affected children are being treated, Smith called it “an issue” for children who don’t speak the local language and need to be in school. Teenagers “are also looking for an opportunity to stay busy,” Smith said.

“People think kids bounce back, but their development is so important,” Krehbiel said. “If they don’t get educational support, it can have long-term impacts. It’s one of our biggest concerns — how children are getting their needs met.”

Asked how funds get into the hands of partners, Kraus said that PDA, World Mission and other partners began meeting las month just as the conflict began. World Mission in particular has “long-term relationships in the area” as do other organizations that have partnered to work on the COVID-19 pandemic and crises in North Africa and Syria, Kraus said.

“We say to them, ‘We want to come alongside you. Where can funds be most helpfully be put out in the field?’” Kraus said. “We meet two times a week to talk about ways to get money all along the border.” One, the ACT Alliance, is a humanitarian and activist group with 135 members, including PDA, “banding together for relief, global development and advocacy,” Kraus said. Through wire transfers, money gets into partners’ hands nearly immediately.

“There are many volunteers in the communities there. The needs are being met by the Europeans themselves,” Krehbiel said. The response “was lifesaving at the beginning, but it’s not necessarily sustainable. It’ll be important … to make sure they have the capacity to continue, to get training and get services.”

The Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus

“Our principle is the most significant response is the one closest to on the ground. You want to stand up for your neighbors,” Kraus said. PDA volunteers and others “may want to be present physically, but the passion is so much more potent in the lives of their neighbors.”

In trauma response, “part of healing is to recover a sense of agency and self-determination that you lose when your home is taken away, when your beloved’s life is taken or some other catastrophic event. That’s why we believe it’s important to center and privilege the people closest to this crisis.”

Kraus said more webinars on the response in and around Ukraine are in the planning stages.

“We began with the humanitarian situation because that’s what’s closest to our hearts,” Kraus said. Webinars on advocacy efforts and the impacts of war and militarism are upcoming.

“We will continue to promote these occasional gatherings,” Kraus said, asking viewers to pray for back-channel conversations that are occurring “in very difficult circumstances.”

“As we go our way,” she suggested, “pause for a moment of prayer” as “we try to face this grave and overwhelming humanitarian crisis.”


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