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Life in an active war zone: Fallbrook missionary describes what life is like for those that remain in Ukraine

Avalon Hester

Village News Intern

Prior to the war in Ukraine, many of us may never have come face-to face with a Ukrainian flag, or uttered the words "Slava Ukraini," (Glory to Ukraine). However, as Russia's occupation has raged on, the Ukrainian people and their calls for freedom have reached the ears of many empathetic Americans, including those in Fallbrook.

Ukraine is the second largest country on the European continent. Prior to the Russian invasion Feb. 24, 2022, the population in Ukraine was 43.79 million, according to the World Bank. When fighting escalated, many Ukrainians were forced to leave the country. The United Nations reports over 6.5 million refugees left Ukraine to foreign nations, mostly in Europe. Even more are estimated to have been displaced within Ukraine as bombs have destroyed schools, houses, community centers and churches.

Sam, a missionary with North Coast Church who works to supply relief to Ukraine, told the story of a family who lived with neighbors in a crowded church basement for 24 days under constant fire. While many chose to leave the country, or learn to live together in the close confines of shelters, others have stayed as close to their homes and villages as possible. Sam recalled traveling through remote rural villages as part of his missionary work, "Some of these villages only have two people left."

Sam mentioned that for some, "There is a bigger fear in leaving than there is for living in a war." Many of those that make the choice to stay are over 50 years old. People for whom the prospect of learning a new language or retraining for new jobs in a new country is daunting. They are confronting the possibility of leaving their homes for a place with no community besides what's offered in refugee settlements.

The result? "There are a lot of older people on their own in the front line areas," Sam added. "A lot of older people are being cared for by older people and often there is no running water or electricity so diapers are a big need. Try washing reusable diapers with no water or having to use your limited bottled water to do that."

Mothers and children, who remain while waiting for fighting relatives, are also in need of diapers. Sam talked about a recent trip to a village in Central Ukraine, where he and another pastor who visits the village twice a week were taking food and water, but also milk, medicine, and formula, "A whole van full." The women made Sam and the pastor tea and cakes, and shared with them fresh eggs, potatoes, salted fish, "...whatever each woman or family could contribute, and they asked us to bring it back to their boys, their fathers, husbands and sons, fighting at the front."

None of this makes the decision to stay an easy one, with most of the supply chain disrupted by the war, opportunities to work and access to necessities are endangered. The United Nations estimates that over 12 million people have no or limited electricity due to attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure which are thought to cost over $10 billion in damages.

Sam confirmed the disruption to day-to-day life that attacks on infrastructure have caused. When he first began supplying aid in Ukraine, one church told him that their main need was for transportation. Large vans help fill the gaps in available transportation for people and much needed food. The price for just one of these essential cargo vans is around $15,000. Thanks to donations sourced in part through Fallbrook's North Coast church, Sam was able to raise the money needed for not just one of these vans, but five. Eventually, the total number of vans rose to seven, which helped transport the mountains of humanitarian aid that arrived at the beginning of the war to people in shelters around Ukraine, many of whom rely on pastors and churches for necessary supplies, "Especially in the East, near the fighting," Sam said.

The vans were also used to pick up and distribute around 90 tonnes of potatoes grown within Ukraine, averaging 2,667 potatoes per ton, that's around 250,000 potatoes. They are stored in 50 schools, churches and shelters across the country. With roads destroyed and vehicles commandeered, farms have experienced difficulty getting the food they grow to civilians who desperately need it.

"We were able to get one ton of potatoes for $120," Sam explained, "farmers are reliant on pickup and transport since farming distribution is destroyed." This is a deal that works for everyone, cheap food to those in need, supporting Ukrainian farms with an abundance of crops that need distribution. However, as the fighting continues, finding food becomes more difficult.

Sam mentioned that his organization can now expect to pay eight times the price per ton for potatoes. Additionally, humanitarian aid supplies are coming in much slower than they were at the beginning of the war. "We're now down to the last few potatoes from that order," Sam admitted.

His organization uses donations, partially supplied through North Coast church in Fallbrook, to purchase food and other humanitarian supplies such as medicine, water, water filters, generators, fuel, phone batteries, clothing and more. Humanitarian organizations are often able to sell these supplies for a low price. Sam's organization was able to bring in 40 tonnes of food this past June; 20 tonnes were purchased from Samaritan's Purse.

Sam continues to coordinate aid in Ukraine through his ministry, along with many others. In addition to distributing necessities, he organizes summer camps for Ukrainian children and works with North Coast church and other donors to supply gifts such as new school backpacks, school supplies and children's Bibles.

Donations to Ukraine are accepted through North Coast Church by check written out to Peter's Work, at PO Box 2591, Fallbrook CA 92088, or through Paypal to Peter's Work, the link can be accessed by scanning the given QR code.


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