Before the war, Olga* enjoyed her life in far eastern Ukraine. She hopped the train to a job she enjoyed, cherished a comfortable home with a small summer kitchen out back, and tended her garden. She grew beautiful roses and carefully nurtured a prized cherry tree from sapling to maturity. Almost two decades in this small town rooted her to the land and the community.
So, it is with a mixture of despair, disgust, and determination that she shows us the present state of her modest property. Her beloved home is now a wreck—a shell—ruined by months-ago fighting. Her outside kitchen and the adjoining bathroom are rubble. A missile fragment lies askew atop splintered beams nearby. Her yard bears the scars of tank tread. Everything seems ripped up, torn, destroyed by war.
“When I’m walking here, I’m crying every time, because I don’t have anything, except for this property. I don’t have a family, I don’t have children, I don’t have parents,” she said. “Nothing is left.”
“I had flowers here; I had roses here; now it’s finished,” she continued.
The war has stripped Olga of nearly everything. She has no job and no money. With no car, she has no way to leave her town, and nowhere to go anyway. The commuter train doesn’t run, because the power, bridges, and rail lines were cut over the course of the Russian occupation starting last spring and subsequent Ukrainian liberation last fall. There’s been no electricity in the town for many months, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. She stays, with permission, in the damaged home of a kind neighbor who fled the violence.
Despite nearly a year of devastating trials, including having to spend two months underground in a cellar turned bomb shelter, Olga has not given up on God or prayer. She petitions the Lord for help based on Psalm 91, “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust” (v. 2). And, she is deeply grateful for the assistance she has received through Samaritan’s Purse.
Our Ukrainian church partner here has been working tirelessly with the town’s mayor to identify and help those in great need, like Olga. A chaplain regularly delivers Samaritan’s Purse food baskets, including items like rice, pasta, oats, oil, and canned beans. In addition, we have provided Olga and others with stoves, which can double for warmth and cooking; wood for fuel; and construction materials—all to help them make it through Ukraine’s coldest months.
“Thank you for your support,” Olga said. “We don’t have any other means to survive.”
The situation in this town in Donetsk Oblast (province) remains precarious. While the area has been under Ukrainian control since early October, booming artillery exchanges continue and tanks remain on surrounding roads.
Olena, her husband, and two children take shelter in their small underground cellar as soon as they sense danger. With a Samaritan’s Purse stove installed down there, she said, “We always keep it warm in case there’s an emergency and we need to hide.”
“It’s so scary when the shelling begins,” she added. “Your body starts working in a defensive mode. You think less. Then when the shelling stops, your mind can’t stop replaying everything that just happened—and it’s even scarier.”
Olena’s family is especially thankful this winter for the stove, food, and other help they have received. “In summer, we were OK because of the garden,” she said. But now, with no greens or potatoes left—and no way to work—they live on aid.
A few streets over, Darya and her family are also grateful for the food and a stove provided by Samaritan’s Purse. With temperatures dropping well below freezing, “the stoves are really needed,” she said. “Sometimes we’re down in the cellar a very long time; sometimes briefly.”
About 600 people live in the village now, down from more than 2,000 before the war began on Feb. 24, 2022. Most evacuated early on; some have never left. The mayor said 48 civilians were killed in town during the war’s first year. All remaining face the precarious future with some level of dread.
Nevertheless, Natalya, 85, and Vitaliy, 87, who’ve been married 60 years, have no intention of leaving their home. They suffered through the ups and downs of the war’s first year; they did not flee even when Russians occupied the town and only one aid delivery came this summer, Natalya said. She noted that residents have typically lost 20 to 60 pounds.
Now food comes more regularly, and the couple also keeps warm with a new stove. “You [Samaritan’s Purse] have helped us so much,” she said. “When I receive help from a Christian organization, I think it is precious because we are all Christians here.”
Samaritan’s Purse and our church partner are firmly committed to continue to help this town in cooperation with local government. “We’ve never had such an opportunity,” Chaplain Danylo said. “Today we have open doors for the Good News, and we have to enter.”
“We see this need, and we want to serve,” he said. “We preach, we pray, and we stay connected to the people.”
*All names have been changed for security.
Your support enables Samaritan’s Purse to share the love of Jesus by providing assistance to people impacted by the Russia/Ukraine conflict.