Vika’s Story: Leaving Ukraine

Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb 24, 2022, a flood of people began to leave the country. Poland, where Fellowship International missionaries Ben and Krista Taylor and Pierre and Hanna Jutras serve, quickly became the preferred destination for most of these refugees. In response, our missionaries and their church partners have setup two emergency shelters at churches in the towns of Hrubieszów and Zamość in Poland near the border with Ukraine. Through the generosity of many people and church communities, these shelters have been able to operate for three months now with many local volunteers from churches all over Poland along with a small team of Canadian volunteers from BC. Below is a story from Vika, one of the refugees who was able to stay at the church shelter in Zamość.

“For me, this war began in 2014,” says Vika, reflecting on her journey. Because her daughter has epilepsy, she had gone to the Crimea peninsula to get medical care. But while she was there, Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine. Suddenly everything changed. Russian troops were all over the place. The doctors at the hospital began to threaten and scare Vika because she was Ukrainian and no longer welcome. Then one day, the doctors warned her not to go outside because she could die! This was too much; she just wanted to go home. Taking her daughter from the hospital, Vika rushed to the train station hoping to find a way home. When she opened the door of the first train, there was a Russian soldier standing there who told her, “It’s finished. You stay here.” In tears and praying constantly, Vika and her daughter rushed from train to train hoping to find a safe train to travel away from Crimea on. Finally, at one train, the door opened and someone let her in. The journey home was terrifying: just imagine being a young woman with a child on a train filled with soldiers. But, she made it safely.

And then one night in 2022, eight years later, at their home in Lviv, her daughter woke her up at 4:00 am and said, “Mom, war, the war has begun!” The next few weeks were very emotional. A few times each day, air raid sirens would sound and Vika and her family would rush to safety. The safest place they found was a church basement near their home where many in their community had started to attend. The man who had offered them shelter at that church said, “Don’t panic but let us pray.” Vika remembers, “He started praying and 100 to 200 people started praying with him which gave us strength.”

As the alarms became more frequent and access to medicine for her daughter became more difficult, they decided it was time to leave for Poland. Although her husband struggled to let his wife and daughter leave, there was no other option.

The bus ride to the Polish border was horrendous. Vika was ill during the trip where she and 100 other passengers – all packed into one bus – set out. The 80km trip took 20 hours! Vika shares: “It was hard to be squeezed in with such a crowd in the bus with kids crying and dogs barking…All the women tried to support each other. At one point we ran out of water and food, but volunteers were waiting for us on the road, knocking on the bus door to pass tea, hot water, food, diapers, and baby food to us.”

They waited hours to cross the border because of the thousands waiting to enter Poland. Vika writes, “I almost fell down when I got off the bus because my legs were so weak and I almost lost consciousness, like many others.” In spite of being offered hot food and water, Vika was too exhausted and sleep-deprived from the 20-hour trip to eat.

Vika and her daughter were taken in for the night by Marichka, a Ukrainian woman living in Poland who was nine months pregnant and had been waiting at the border since 2:30 am to offer assistance. Vika and her daughter slept almost the entire next day and were so thankful to have arrived safely.

Soon, Vika and her daughter were able to connect with a local pastor and were taken to a FAIR-sponsored shelter in Zamość. The day after arriving in Poland they attended the local church service there. “It was my first time in a church outside of Ukraine. We were so close with the same hearts. I recognized all the hymns and some of the words… Some of these hymns were already precious to my heart and memory. I praise God that the Body of Christ is so universal with the same Spirit. I really saw them as family members. I was so grateful to God for His salvation.”

Vika shares, “I am very worried and feel great guilt because I left my parents, my husband, and my church. I feel like a traitor. I left my husband in a very difficult time.” One of the volunteers gave Vika a SIM card for Poland which makes it possible for her to connect with her husband who has remained behind.

If you would like to help more refugees like Vika, you can do so through our website. Your prayers and support are so helpful to bring care and support to so many refugees coming to Poland. Thank you.