Operation Christmas Child is reaching children and their parents displaced by the war in Ukraine.
Millions of children have fled to western Ukraine or left the country entirely since war broke out last February. Each of them has a different story of confusion, fear, and trauma.
Churches across Ukraine are meeting the practical needs of the displaced in many ways, including providing shelter and food. Samaritan’s Purse alone has provided more than 153 million pounds of food over the past year-plus. In addition, many congregations continue to partner with Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, to bring great joy and the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ to boys and girls in need.
Thousands of churches across Ukraine are distributing nearly 400,000 shoeboxes this year, each filled with a variety of gifts that typically include clothes, toys, school supplies, hygiene items, and other goodies. At festive outreach events, the children receive their gift-filled boxes and hear an age-appropriate presentation of the Gospel in their language. They are also invited to a follow-up discipleship course called The Greatest Journey.
Many parents have sought shelter with their little ones in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. Pastor *Fedir’s church is one among many that is helping these families with spiritual and physical relief.
Serving Christ when your country is at war is not easy and requires flexibility to help where most needed. When he woke up in February 2022 to news of the first attacks, he said he knew that his life would have two periods: before the war and after the war began. “That day I realized all my plans would be cancelled,” he said. “I had to do whatever I needed to do in this situation.”
Pastor Fedir has expanded his youth and children’s ministry to incorporate displaced girls and boys. “They try to cover their emotions,” Pastor Fedir says of the children, “but we can see, from time to time, that they are desperately wounded in their souls.” Though the war has brought challenges, his ultimate goal remains the same: “The most important is seeing the children receive Jesus as Savior.”
Displaced Children Find Joy While in Lviv
Pastor’s Fedir’s church led two Operation Christmas Child outreaches to displaced children earlier this year. As displaced parents fleeing war struggle to find work and provide shelter and food, they can’t focus on their kids as much as they’d like, he said. And children miss all they’ve left behind: their homes, their friends, their toys. So, the Operation Christmas Child gifts are “a special bright spot, just to have their own toys, their own box.”
Both events reached several dozen children and featured games, lively songs, and a presentation of the Gospel from Creation to the Cross and Resurrection. An invitation was given to adults and children to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9).
Many of the people at the two events had fled fighting in eastern Ukraine: families hailing from the regions of Kharkiv, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhia, among others.
Dmitro* and his wife Alina* fled Kharkiv with their two girls early in the war, spending five days in a bomb shelter in central Ukraine. “We left Kharkiv because of the kids,” Dmitro said. Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, was under heavy attack from Russian forces for weeks.
In March 2022, Alina and the girls traveled to Slovakia, while Dmitro moved to Lviv. In September last year, the family reunited with him in western Ukraine.
The entire family came out to Pastor Fedir’s church one cold winter’s night. “We’re so thankful they (the church) are thinking of children at this time,” Dmitro said.
Seven-year-old Daryna* and 9-year-old Kalyna* were pleased with their shoebox gifts. Daryna held up her stuffed grey cat with joy and Kalyna treasured her stuffed green frog. “They’re so happy, so many presents,” Alina said.
Dmitro noted that his family had little interest in religion before coming to Lviv. But now they see that Pastor Fedir’s church takes a welcoming approach to reaching children and their families. The couple even planned to have their girls attend discipleship classes. “We were told today that the kids will have lessons, so we want to come,” Alina said.
More Shoeboxes Bring More Opportunities
A couple days later, 13-year-old Kateryna* received her once-in-a-lifetime shoebox gift filled with a jump rope, paddle ball, water bottle, toiletries, crayons, a noisemaker, and more. A budding vocalist and pianist, Kateryna simply wants to go back to her home city of Kharkiv where her house was destroyed by shelling. Though they miss friends and family, her mom said they can only go back “when all the terrible things end.”
At the same event, 7-year-old Anastasia* and 5-year-old Ionna* from the Donetsk region also received shoeboxes. They loved sharing the dolls, combs, and other toys they opened. Their mom Vira* was especially happy that Anastasia could enjoy her birthday in such a special way!
The family fled eastern Ukraine in an evacuation train following a bomb attack in their area. They were relieved to leave, but the experience was frightening. “The train was packed with too many people, like fish in a can,” Vira said.
Now they live in a modular town in Lviv set up to accommodate people displaced by the war. “It’s difficult,” Vira said. “We have to stay here. It’s the only place. We don’t know what the future holds. Maybe the war will end.” Each day Anastasia asks Vira when they can go home, but what sort of answer can a parent offer under the circumstances?
Maria* and her 9-year-old daughter Feya* are from the Zaporizhzhia region and they now live in the same community with Vira and her girls. Feya got a headband, doll, hat, gloves, and more in her shoebox. “It’s very important to me, because she is so happy,” Maria said. “When children are happy, parents are happy as well.”
Maria is grateful for the support she’s received from Pastor Fedir’s church. “We got excited about the church, because it’s helping people so much,” she said.
Samaritan’s Purse is thankful for all our church partners across Ukraine. People are seeing Christians in action, caring for the physical and spiritual well-being of both adults and children.
“Everyone’s life has been shaken, in the east as well as the west of Ukraine,” said Halya*, an Operation Christian Child international field representative. “The war has brought a longing to hear God’s Word to find peace. People’s hearts have been softened.
“This is the time. We sense these are the last days,” she continued. “We have to share the Gospel and have the zeal to preach it as quickly as possible and to use every opportunity we receive.”
Please pray that God would give Ukraine’s Christian leaders wisdom and vision to know how to minister to children during and after the war.
*Names changed for security.