As the war in Ukraine approaches the one-year mark, more than 7.9 million people have fled Ukraine since hostilities escalated on February 24, 2022. Along Ukraine’s borders with Poland, Romania, Hungary, Moldova, and Slovakia, people continue to arrive with only what they can carry.
From a Ukrainian mother and her children displaced in the war-ravaged country to refugees in Romanian transit centers, families impacted by the ongoing conflict share moments of their lives. Join us in praying through their stories as families cope each day and look for hope during this devastating crisis.
Coming in from the cold to find compassion and kindness
Fifty-year-old Lyudmyla will long remember the new coats and shoes that gave her children warmth and hope during the bitterness of winter and war.
“I could not imagine that one day, I would have to leave my home,” said the mother of five from Slovyansk, Ukraine.
According to estimates by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), about 18 million Ukrainians, or 40% of the country’s population, need humanitarian aid this winter in Ukraine.
Lyudmyla and her family are among the millions of Ukrainians who face many challenges to survive this winter, coping with frigid temperatures and uncertainty as the war continues.
She wants to forget their difficulties, now that they’ve escaped the shelling and destruction in their community. In early December 2022, her family hurriedly grabbed important possessions like a musical instrument, a small bag for each family member’s belongings, and one suitcase for them all.
For three days, the family traveled to Chernivtsi, a city more than 620 miles away in western Ukraine. “We did not know where we were going. We found a small room in a house where we all lived together. The space was small, but we were happy to be safe.”
In Chernivtsi, Lyudmyla found help through a cash assistance program, run by World Vision partners, that supports people in Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, and Georgia impacted by the war. The program helped pay for coats, shoes, and necessities she and her children needed to survive the freezing winter, and it has supported more than 68,800 people like Lyudmyla since November 2022.
“I am very grateful to World Vision for their help,” she said. “We needed this money. I was able to buy the essentials that my children needed for the winter. Shoes and warm jackets were bought for everyone.”
“We are currently looking for a refrigerator, so we will use some of the World Vision money for that,” she added.
The family plans to stay in Chernivtsi through the winter and are pinning their hopes on brighter days ahead.
Heavenly Father, as conflict persists and temperatures plummet this winter, we ask in Your name to protect Lyudmyla and her children in a country ravaged by war. We pray that You keep her family warm as they settle in Chernivtsi for the winter.
Dear gracious Lord, we call out to You to stop this ongoing war and to keep families safe from harm and injury. For the millions of Ukrainians displaced in their besieged country, God, we ask in Your name to give them the comfort and relief they desperately need during this season of suffering. Father, allow humanitarian aid workers and World Vision staff to provide all the essentials people need to keep their lives comfortable and filled with dignity.
“I want to help and do my share”
With a baby on her hip, 32-year-old Krystyna walked confidently and quickly through Romexpo, a convention center turned bustling resource hub for incoming Ukrainian refugees in Bucharest, Romania.
Having served in Ukraine’s criminal justice system, the lawyer’s mission had turned personal: Help refugee mothers like herself get the support to make it through the day.
“I want to help and do my share,” she said.
Before the escalation of the war in February 2022, Krystyna worked for the Ukrainian government representing people who were formerly incarcerated. Her husband, a sailor, was away from their home in Kherson when hostilities intensified.
“Nothing was left of the house where my husband grew up in Kherson,” she said with sadness. “It was tough, and we ran out of food. My husband’s remittance was not enough for our needs, and I cannot help because I was jobless,” said Krystyna, mother to Matvi, 6, and Eleonor, who was barely a month old at the time. “Two rockets fell in our village in Kherson, but we are thankful we are still here.”
“We must move forward,” she said.
Krystyna said she was impressed by the Romanian community’s welcome and openness to help. She said World Vision supported her family in their most vulnerable hour of need. “We were provided with food, hygiene items, clothes, shoes, children’s clothing, diapers, baby wipes, vitamins, cookies, absolutely everything. When we arrived, they gave us everything.”
Krystyna’s volunteering efforts and legal background caught the attention of the child welfare officials at Romexpo. She’s found a full-time job with Bucharest’s social assistance and child welfare services, and still volunteers her time at Romexpo.
“I am not a hero. I only want my children to have a better life. I want them not to suffer from the war. I want them to have a piece of bread so they will never go hungry,” she said. “Like all Ukrainians, we want to return to where we felt good, where it was peaceful, where our home is.”
Lord, our Rock and our salvation, we pray that You keep Krystyna strong through this crisis. We ask in Your name that she finds ways to use her gifts and talents to help others faced with so many questions during this time of uncertainty.
Dear Lord, bring hope to children and families who have lost so much in the war in Ukraine. May they find peace in You and the courage to rebuild their lives and their country. For the millions of women who face increased pressures and challenges as they navigate their days away from home, be their strength.
“I would just like all of this to stop”
Nine-year-old Diana longs to return to Odesa, Ukraine, where she resides on the terraced hills overlooking a small harbor on the Black Sea.
When the sounds of exploding bombs grew louder, Diana’s peaceful life shattered. In late March 2022, her mother, Ira, made the most difficult decision to quickly leave — gathering Diana, her older sister, Lisa, and Lisa’s 6-month-old son, Leonid — and head far away from Ukraine. They traveled on a minibus for more than 200 miles and through two countries, not knowing when they would return or what awaited them on the other side of the border.
The only item from home Diana has is a red and white polka-dot stuffed toy octopus. She misses her cat. “She is fluffy and gentle and so sweet to play with — and she loves to eat a lot,” Diana said. “She stayed in Odesa with my dad.”
Diana spent her days at a refugee transit center in the border town of Iasi, Romania, where World Vision continues to support vulnerable children and families impacted by the conflict in Ukraine. She didn’t know when she would see her dad, her beloved pet, or Odesa again. Her family’s plight weighed heavily on her mind. “I have no plans for the near future … for now I would just like all of this to stop,” Diana said.
Lord, we come before You to pray for Diana, whose life has been turned upside down by the crisis in Ukraine. Lay Your comforting blanket of love around her and restore her sense of security and wholeness. Calm her anxious heart and mind. Show Diana Your love by sending kind and compassionate people her way to give her and her family the support and care they need during this challenging time.
Eternal Father, we pray for the millions of children who have been forcibly displaced by this conflict. Only You can give children who are now refugees a sense of peace and stability that surpasses all understanding. Lord, surround all those affected by crisis with Your supernatural protection and keep them from harm.
On hold: A teen’s college dreams
A photo of his father and the hope of one day finishing school are two things 17-year-old Oleksandr (name changed to protect identity) clings to as his family adjusts to life as refugees. His father stayed behind on the family farm in Odesa, while Oleksandr, his mother, Olga, and two younger brothers made the arduous journey to Romania.
Fleeing to the Romanian border in March 2022 was their first time traveling outside of Odesa. “I couldn’t even understand what was happening, if it was real,” said Olga. She initially hesitated to leave their family’s house she had built with her husband. “Then after two weeks [from] when the bombing started … when two rockets flew above my head, I understood. My husband asked me to leave. Only then, I agreed.”
The four took a bus to the border, where they went through customs, a stressful process for the family. The separation from Oleksandr’s father also hit hard. “They were hysterical, crying during the trip,” Olga said of her boys.
As the eldest son, Oleksandr feels pressure to fill in during his father’s absence. “My father told me to watch out for them [younger brothers]. Now I’m grown up, so I have to look out for them and my mother. I must be responsible one way or another.”
The conflict also placed Oleksandr’s schooling on hold. They fled weeks before Oleksandr was due to sit for his final exam, the last step before he could pursue his lifelong dream of attending a university to become a veterinarian. “I had plans to pass the national exam and to be accepted in Odesa into the University of Agriculture as a vet,” he said. “I wanted to be a vet since I was little. I dreamed a lot to become a vet. But unfortunately, all this interrupted me.”
Father God, give Oleksandr and his family a sense of Your peace and protection. May Oleksandr know Your presence, and give him Your strength as he takes on greater responsibilities no child should have to. Restore Oleksandr’s ability to finish school and complete the necessary exams to continue to college, where he can achieve his dream of being a veterinarian.
We know conflict interrupts children’s education, tears apart families, and throws children’s futures into doubt. Father, cover and protect all children who can’t attend school, especially those whose educations are disrupted by conflict and crisis. Provide opportunities for their education and continued learning so they can grow into their fullest potential.
Sick and scared, twice displaced
When Olga and her husband heard explosions outside their apartment near Kyiv, they grabbed their 15-month-old son, David, packed their car with all it could carry and headed south to the countryside. Behind them, they left unfathomable uncertainty, not knowing when or if they would see their home again, or whether what they brought in the car was enough.
In freezing temperatures, Olga and the family spent several days in underground shelters, hoping for the best. But the bombs followed them, conflict escalated, and little David spiked a fever. “After the second bombing, we decided to leave,” she said.
Olga and her husband found a medical shelter supported by World Vision where David received immediate medical care. She held David as they sat on a small bed until David’s fever was under control. “It’s warm here, doctors help a lot here. The atmosphere is good here,” she said.
She’s grateful for the support, shelter, and medical care and simply longs for peace so her family can go home. “For now, we have everything … shelter, food. We only want the conflict to stop and to return home,” Olga said.
Olga is one of many displaced mothers trying to keep her family safe. Since the beginning of the conflict, World Vision has worked to deliver food, bedding, and other supplies to southwestern Ukraine and will continue to do so as long as it’s required.
Lord Jesus, You are the Great Physician. Thank You for young David’s physical healing and protection. Protect his mother, Olga, and their family, and bring peace to all in this conflict.
Jesus, during Your ministry on earth You revealed Your power and care by healing people of all ages from physical, mental, and spiritual ailments. Take away the fear and anxiety that so many mothers are experiencing as they try to find medical care for their children during this time. We know millions of people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries, and among those are the sick and hurting. For healthcare workers and first responders, renew their energy and sustain them during dangerous and long shifts. Give them the resources they need to care for the sick. Multiply their supplies so they have the medical items they need to treat those suffering and in need.
“What does our future look like?”
They had an hour to pack up their lives — to save their lives. In the middle of that frenzy of emotions and decisions, 25-year-old Angelina (name changed to protect identity) asked her husband, Egor, whether she should pack their photo album. “Looking at photos will only make you cry,” he said.
That album now lies under a mountain of dust and rubble — all that remains of the couple’s home in the besieged town of Irpin, an initial flashpoint of the war.
When bombs started to rain down near their family home on February 24, 2022, Angelina and Egor knew she had to leave with their 10-month-old son, Tim. Crammed into one vehicle, Angelina joined her mother-in-law, Iryna; sister Dasha; sisters-in-law, Xenia, Maria, and Tatiana; and the family dog, Bruno.
Progress at the Polish border was painfully slow, with the group inching about half a mile in 15 hours at one point. Andrew, her father-in-law and main driver at the time, could not cross the border because men ages 18 to 60 were being banned from leaving the country. Just two weeks short of his 60th birthday, Andrew was considered an able-bodied man who would have to fight in the conflict if called upon.
They spent the next couple of days driving along Ukraine’s western border, trying to find a way out, and finally finding a crossing in the northwestern pocket of Romania. There, the women boarded a train to Bucharest, where they were greeted and offered refuge by staff from a women’s shelter supported by World Vision.
Angelina said she’s been overwhelmed by the generosity of Romanians. She desires a quick end to the conflict and for peace to be restored. “What we need is a future. All we think about is a future. What does our future look like?” she says.
Dear God, thank You for being love, perfect and pure. We pray for Angelina, Tim, and Egor to be reunited soon. Our hope is for all families to be reunited.
Lord Almighty, cover the entire earth with Your light, Your goodness, and Your grace. Let no more harm come to vulnerable children and their families who continue to be caught in this conflict. Only You can repair our broken world. We pray this in the mighty name of Your son, Jesus, our Prince of Peace.
Refugee returns kindness, smiles to families
Liudmila is an opera singer and conductor from Odesa who helped bring joy and comfort to fellow refugees in shelters along the border of Romania.
“I left Odesa five days after the invasion started,” she said in March 2022. “We were waiting at the border for nine hours. Then Moldovan volunteers helped us and took us to a shelter. [More] volunteers then helped me get to Romania.”
Overwhelmed by the generosity offered to her by strangers, Liudmila wanted to return the kindness and care she experienced to others who are displaced by the crisis.
“When the war started, I didn’t know how I could help,” said Liudmila. “It’s horrible that so many people are dying. I don’t know what I can do right now except for thanking other volunteers for helping, for being so kind, bringing food, tea, coffee, and everything at the border. They even brought blankets. It was cold but we were OK because we were touched by their kindness and warmth. They gave us love and care.”
Liudmila speaks Russian, Ukrainian, Romanian, and English. She put her language skills to work as a translator for doctors treating refugees at the shelter.
Since Liudmila has found other accommodations, she still returns to the shelter with Viesta, her 12-year-old dog, to serve where needed. Liudmila sings and performs concerts for children and families — and Viesta’s presence is enough to warm hearts. “We lift children’s spirits and help them feel better. Volunteers are also really happy to play with her,” she added.
Most compassionate God, You are our refuge and strength in times of trouble, and we thank You for protecting Liudmila and her family as they found their way to safety from the fighting in Odesa. Our hearts are lifted as we learn how Liudmila shares her voice with others during this crisis. Keep her strong and her pathways free of danger and harm.
Lord, please be with all crisis workers and volunteers, and keep them safe as they selflessly help others in these difficult situations. Comfort them in this time of distress and ease any pain they may be experiencing. Move us to act in ways that honor You, Lord, with generosity, kindness, and goodness. Blessed be the name of the Lord, now and forever.
Cecil Laguardia, communications director for World Vision’s Ukraine crisis response in Chisinau, Moldova; Oleksandra Shapkina, communications and public engagement officer for World Vision in Kyiv, Ukraine; Briana Piazza, emergency communications specialist for World Vision; and Mike Bruce, media manager of World Vision in Australia, contributed to this article, as did Sevil Omer from World Vision U.S.