I remember the morning of February 24, when my wife woke me up to say that the Russian invasion of Ukraine had begun. I couldn’t believe it. I started checking the internet and reading about how bombs and rockets were falling on peaceful Ukrainian cities. I didn’t know how to call my mother, who lives 30 kilometres from the border with Russia. I was afraid.
It has now been five months since we started actively serving refugees from Ukraine in Poland. More than 500,000 people have arrived in Warsaw. Every day, up to 800 people turn to The Salvation Army for help—women with children or the elderly, who left their lives running away from the war. It is often impossible to listen to the stories of these people without tears—a murdered husband, a raped child, destroyed houses. This is what will forever remain in the memory of these women.
I am Ukrainian by nationality, so I consider Ukraine my homeland. It was especially difficult for me to serve the refugees because, in them I saw my mother, who was in a bomb shelter for a couple of weeks without food and drinking water, who saw a Russian soldier shooting people next to her house. On Sunday, during the sermon, when I was talking about love and forgiveness, I asked myself if I really believed what I was saying. It was difficult to find understanding in my heart when hundreds of Ukrainian children are killed every day because they are Ukrainians, when schools and hospitals with civilians are bombed. But God reminds me that all our hope is in him.
My grandmother, who was a child during the Second World War, often said that you can survive a lot, but the worst is war. Today I understand this when I see thousands of refugees on the streets of Warsaw. They are desperately looking for work, security and stability. They have not seen their husbands or partners for more than four months, bearing the responsibility for their children and their elderly parents on their shoulders.
One evening, when we were no longer working, someone rang the doorbell of our corps. A woman with a child stood at the door. She said that she was passing by and just came to say hello, since she has no one here but only The Salvation Army, where she feels calm and her child is happy. Today, Natasha is an volunteer with us, holding a club for Ukrainian children every Saturday. While the children play, mothers can cry together and talk about common difficulties.
I could never have imagined that my officership would be like this—with sleepless nights, many tears, hundreds of difficult conversations every day. But today we are God’s light to these people; we can give them a little hope.
Captain Oleg Samoilenko is a Salvation Army officer in Warsaw, Poland.