“Already over a half million people have been displaced by this conflict, and those numbers are predicted to go up to as many as five million,” said Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, general secretary of the ACT Alliance. “There is an urgent need for humanitarian support in Ukraine and in the countries where many refugees are fleeing — Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, as well as in Russia, where thousands were already living before last week's escalation.”
Those fleeing the war are in immediate need of food, water, hygiene, and other basic necessities. “ACT members are already responding — Hungarian Interchurch Aid has set up a refugee support point providing hot drinks, food, hygiene items, and information on entry into Hungary, for example,” said de Faria. “The Russian Orthodox Church continues to support thousands of refugees in Russia.”
ACT members have already begun to ship food and other goods to support refugees, have set up a refugee support point, and are providing information and other support to refugees at the borders. “They have worked to secure humanitarian access to western Ukraine, will support internally displaced people in Transcarpathia, and are gathering information on other needs,” said de Faria. “Within Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church provides assistance to refugees in the Rostov region of Russia through its parishes and social services.”
Churches are currently organizing fundraising; collecting clothes, food and hygiene items; and organizing accommodations for refugees.
ACT has issued an alert and is supporting national members with its Rapid Response Fund while an appeal for multi-country support is being prepared by ACT members to scale up the response in Ukraine and neighboring countries.
How can we help?
As many across the world asked how they can help, de Faria has some concrete suggestions. “There are three things people can do to help,” he said. “The first is to pray — we are people of faith, and believe in the power of prayer,” he said. “A global prayer vigil is planned for Ash Wednesday.”
Second, people can donate, said de Faria. “Cash is the best response we can do right now — it can be sent quickly to meet immediate needs, and it allows the refugees and internally displaced persons to purchase the things they most need.”
Finally, de Faria said, you can act in your own context. “Learn more about the situation,” he said. “Write to your politicians calling for work towards peace and an end to this war.”
He also suggested looking for opportunities to welcome refugees in your own community. “Fight against racial discrimination towards refugees,” he said.
Religious groups expressed ongoing concern about racist treatment of African people seeking to flee from Ukraine, highlighted in a statement from the African Union, which is “particularly disturbed by reports that African citizens on the Ukrainian side of the border are being refused the right to cross the border to safety.”
De Faria concluded: “And stay in touch — the situation is evolving rapidly, and the needs will change just as fast."
Calls for prayer
Fr Mykolay Danylevych, deputy chairman of the Department for External Church Relations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, said that, on 2 March, the biggest problem is shelling, and people are hiding in bomb shelters. “Lack of food and medicine may be a big problem in the near future,” he said. “At the moment, most people still have food stocks; I have not heard of hunger.”
In places where there is heavy shelling, people are sitting in basements in need of food, but it is not possible to deliver food to them because of the shelling. “But these are isolated cases,” said Danylevych. “All churches have opened their doors.”
He added that all basements available to churches are being used as bomb shelters. “Churches receive people, provide shelter, feed people,” he said. “Priests pray, comfort and reassure people, and provide spiritual and even psychological help.”
Churches are distributing food and providing social support as well, he said.
“You can help first of all with prayer, but also with the truth about the war,” Danylevych urged. “In addition, we ask you to accept refugees, our fellow citizens fleeing the war to other countries.”
He also said humanitarian aid for residents of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Mariupol, and other cities and towns where active hostilities are taking place would be welcomed.
The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is supporting efforts of its member churches in central and eastern Europe to respond to the severe escalation of the crisis in Ukraine, and its impact on the neighbouring countries and beyond.
LWF has six member churches in the region – in Ukraine itself, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and two in Romania. “They are all minority churches, but all have existing diaconal engagements in their contexts, several of which are focused on refugees and migrants,” reads a letter from Maria Immonen, director of LWF World Service in Geneva. “They are currently being inundated with contacts from abroad, offering help and support in a wide variety of ways.”
Hungarian Interchurch Aid, Hungarian Baptist Aid, and the Hungarian Charity Service of the Order of Malta are also scaling up their humanitarian assistance efforts.
An appeal from the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church said that the church fully shares the pain and suffering of the people. “With the blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, the dioceses and monasteries provide comprehensive assistance to refugees and all those who suffered as a result of hostilities,” reads the appeal. Temples are open around the clock for those who need protection from shelling, the church assured.
The Community of the Monastery of Saint John the New in Suceava (Romania) is appealing for support for refugees from Ukraine. The monastery is situated 150 km away from Siret (bordering Ukraine).
The monastery is presently offering accommodation, hot meals, transport and assistance to those seeking help. The monastery also offers help at the Siret customs point and at the Burdujeni railway station, where Ukrainian-speaking volunteers are providing food, accommodation and transport packages.
The many responding groups report that the coordination needs are enormous and very challenging. All are working to enable churches to scale up and respond to the evolving situation in Ukraine and other countries.
WCC acting general secretary to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow: “raise up your voice so that the war can be stopped” (WCC press release 2 March 2022)
WCC urges President Putin to stop war, restore peace to Ukraine (WCC press release of 25 February 2022)
In Ukraine, “such a war has no excuse, neither from God, nor from people” (WCC press release, 25 February 2022)
WCC calls for an immediate end to the current armed hostilities (WCC statement 24 February 2022)
WCC gravely concerned for people of Ukraine amid escalating tensions (WCC statement 22 February 2022)
WCC urgently appeals for peace for the people of Ukraine (WCC statement 25 January 2022)