(Above) Cpt Oleg Samoilenko, corps officer at Warsaw Corps, Poland, greets a family who fled Ukraine. His wife, Cpt Dominika Domanska (bottom left), who studied at the College for Officer Training in Winnipeg, hands out supplies to refugees
Last May, an elderly woman stood at the door of our community centre in Warsaw, Poland. She came to Poland with her seven-year-old granddaughter, fleeing the war in Ukraine. On the way, her eldest granddaughter was killed by a rocket explosion, but she was forced to leave her and run to the train to save her younger sister.
She came to The Salvation Army for food and clothes, but most of all she wanted to talk to someone. She needed to share the pain that was in her heart. We just listened because we couldn’t find the right words to support her. We wanted to cry, but we couldn’t. Psychologists say that at a certain point you get used to the negative, but I haven’t been able to get used to it. The history of each person will always be in my memory and shock me.
Ten million refugees—women, children and the elderly—from Ukraine have come to Poland. Everyone needed shelter, food, clothing, simple conversation and prayer. I will never forget the day in spring 2022 when 700 people turned to our corps for help. We did not know how we could help everyone with a team that consisted of two people (me and my wife), and my mother and aunt as volunteers (even though they themselves are also refugees from Ukraine).
We sat at the reception table, handing out food and clothes to people, but most importantly, listening to their stories and the tragedies they experienced. At one point I heard that one of the women was from the street where I grew up. My native city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine, where I was born and have not been for a very long time, was badly damaged by bombs and my parents’ apartment was destroyed by a rocket. We cried together and shared memories about our district. I have served in Poland now for more than five years, and it has become my new home.
Today, looking back at 2022, we can’t believe we were able to get through it all. God gave us strength for everything that was done. I have often asked God why this is happening, and I still don’t have all the answers, but even the most negative situations in our lives can be used by God for our good. Our corps has grown a lot, because among the refugees there were also Salvationists who were looking for The Salvation Army in a new country for them. For many, it was a pleasant surprise that the officer knew their language and understood their culture.
It is important for each of us to know that there will not always be dark days, to remember that after rain and storms, grass and flowers grow better. In my situation, we are still in the storm, as every day the news tells us about more victims, but we already see how much fruit our service is bearing. Don’t give up, even when it’s hard. When you are at the bottom, all you can do is swim up.
Captain Oleg Samoilenko is the corps officer in Warsaw, Poland.