Air strikes, shelling, and heavy fighting have had devastating consequences for children and their families caught in the Ukraine crisis. More than 6 million people have fled Ukraine since the conflict escalated on February 24, 2022.
Along Ukraine’s borders with Poland, Romania, Hungary, Moldova, and Slovakia, thousands of people continue to arrive with only what they can carry.
Refugees in Romanian transit centers share moments of their lives, often fraught with anxiety and fear. Join us in praying through their stories as families continue to cope every day and look for hope during this devastating crisis.
“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, 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 says. “She stayed in Odesa with my dad.”
Diana spends her days at a refugee transit center in the border town of Iasi, Romania, where World Vision is supporting vulnerable children and families impacted by the conflict in Ukraine. She has no idea when she will see her dad, her beloved pet, or Odesa again. Her family’s plight weighs heavily on her mind. “I have no plans for the near future … for now I would just like all of this to stop,” Diana says.
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 difficult journey to Romania.
Fleeing to the Romanian border 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 process that was very stressful for the family. The separation from Oleksandr’s father also hit hard. “They were hysterical, crying during the trip,” she said of her boys.
As the eldest son, Oleksandr feels pressure to fill in during the absence of his father. “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 going to 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 he needs to continue on to college, where he can achieve his dream of being a veterinarian.
We know conflict interrupts childhood 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. We pray for young David’s physical healing and protection and express our deepest gratitude for David’s recovery. 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 of life 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 more than 4 million 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. Multiple 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 somewhere under a mountain of dust and rubble — all that remains of the couple’s home in the besieged town of Irpin, one of the flashpoints of the Ukraine conflict.
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 at one point inching about half a mile in 15 hours. They reached the border point only to be told that Andrew, her father-in-law and main driver at the time, would have to stay in Ukraine due to men ages 18 to 60 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 by staff from a women’s shelter supported by World Vision and offered refuge.
Angelina says 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 are 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, Ukraine, who is helping 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. “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. Recently 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 adds.
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 is sharing 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 make selfless efforts to 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.
Briana Piazza, an 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.