Updated: Mar 15, 2022
I am not the only one, who has been deeply saddened by what's going on in Ukraine at the moment. I have anxiety and have had many bouts of depression since my late teens. This war has affected me more than I thought, but perhaps because I have been to Ukraine. I wanted to start this blog by sharing my experiences, because I know when people have shared with me about countries in the news, it's helped me to relate to them more. Seventeen years ago, as a seventeen year old, I spent a week just outside of Cherkassy, South of Kyiv. It was my first trip abroad without family, or anyone I knew. I went with a small group to work at a summer camp for orphans (I have included a link to send them donations at the bottom of this blog).
Although I now prefer to stay longer and build strong relationships than do shorter trips, it gave me an insight into Ukrainian life and had a huge impact on my worldview. I’ve never forgotten that trip, the country is beautiful. The journey from our base to the camp displayed people swimming in the river, haystacks, piled like the ones in Van Gogh paintings and fields of sunflowers, in full bloom. There are strange things which stick in my mind, like there being tuna and ham on the table for breakfast, but, most of all, I remember the kindness. The people in Ukraine and neighbouring Moldova are some of the most generous people I’ve met.
The camp held at Kompas Park, hosted kids from the age of age five up to seventeen+. The older kids took care of the younger ones. I took my violin (there’s an airport story there) and they were fascinated by it - I let them play it too because I could see the happiness it brought them. There were children fascinated by inexpensive cameras and mobiles (before smart phones were a thing). I remember a kitten showed up at the camp and it bringing joy to these kids (and me.) There was of course, a language difference, they learned a little bit of English and I learned a tiny bit of Ukrainian. Despite the language differences, I couldn’t say there was a ‘barrier’. I don’t even think about the language difference when I look back. Smiles are universal and when you need to communicate, you find other ways. It is sometimes handy to practise charades.
It was seventeen years ago, but the week left an impression. Now these kids are adults and in a situation which most of us can’t even grasp. I have no idea how any of them are but I do remember their tired faces. I am praying for them and hoping this will not last long. In the meantime, as someone who struggles generally with anything on the news, I think there are reasons why we don't need to let it completely break us.
So, in this harrowing situation, how do we not let ourselves become really depressed by the news? For starters, we have seen Ukrainians are unafraid to stand up to the situation they're in. A lady approached Russian soldiers handing them sunflower seeds to put in their pockets "So at least sunflowers will grow when (they) lie down"*. Another man approached a tank and knelt down before standing up and trying to stop it with his hands**. I really admire how defiant president Zelensky is, an honourable leader for the current circumstances, a leader we could all learn from.
I don't know if anyone else sees it this way, but it does feel a little bit like we're all in a playground and the big bully has come out of one classroom. Of course, it's just one person, a bully usually has some friends, but not a whole class full. From this perspective, it could be said that some Russians are the kids in that classroom, not behind the bully, but tarnished by the consequences of his actions. I am heartbroken for the Ukrainians, however, I am also sad for those Russians who are caught up in this, the ones who want nothing to do with the war.
There's a line in Tolkien's, 'The Lord of the Rings', where Treebeard, at the face of war, resigns to do nothing,
'This is not our war' he says, to which Merry replies,
'But you're part of this world, aren't you?!'
It's one of the movie lines which has stuck in my head. I am very much a European, rather than a British citizen and so when a war breaks out in our continent, in my mind, it's our doorstep. I'm not a fan of limiting how many refugees we allow into our country. All of us are human. I've noticed that when people step up to help others, things have a way of working out. Initially, I felt sad and a little afraid of this situation, however, reaching out and thinking of ways to help has changed my thought processes. It's a terrible situation, if we had to put up a Ukrainian in our flat, we would. Imagine if this was the other way around. I get the impression from the Ukrainian leader and, having met Ukrainians, we wouldn't be pushed away.
The thing which has helped me is to look for ways to help. I heard yesterday that people were collecting clothes and supplies for refugees and Ukrainians. I'm not doing this just to 'make myself feel better', I genuinely care about Ukraine and the people, they touched my heart. However, there's a saying about when you're feeling down to get up and help someone. When you're really low, this can feel impossible. There have been times in the past when I had no motivation or energy I just wanted to sleep all day. However, once I've done something, even something small, like brushing my teeth, it made me want to try and do something else.
Today, being in a better place, I sorted some old clean clothes and drove to a shop (I'm still very excited to be able to drive and do things like this) and bought as much as I could from a list of relief aid and took it to the shop collecting donations. It did feel nice to 'do something', but equally, I have such a heavy heart about the whole situation and felt like crying whenever I remembered why I was doing this. Not everyone will have time to collect donations, or go to vigils, but there are other ways to help.
I've decided to make a list if anyone needs it, of sites to visit which are helping in different ways and will add to it as I find more:
This is the organisation I went to the Ukraine with, they do really great things and it would be great to support them in the work they do!
Here's a way to help refugees coming to the UK: "The UK government has announced it is developing a new humanitarian sponsorship programme that will allow an unlimited number of Ukrainian families to come to the UK." It's still being formulated, but you can pledge to help, the link will take you to the sight to tell you more!
Go to Choose Love to buy support for refugees, essential wash products, support for unaccompanied children and more.
The Guardian has written an article including charities which people can support.
The International Rescue Committee work in places which have been devastated by conflict and help communities 'to survive, recover and gain control over their lives'.
This is a link to a petition to tell Boris Johnson to help refugees, you can see more details on the page.
Buy a digital file from Ukrainians on Etsy. It's best to buy a digital file as it will provide money without endangering lives. This YouTube video shows how.
This is a link to a report which includes Ukrainian musicians and artists. There's never been a better time to buy music from overseas.
This idea was passed on from a friend of a friend! If you have the money, book an airbnb in Ukraine, owned by an individual, not a company. Obviously, it's not the time to travel there, however, the money would help them out. The earlier the dates are booked, the sooner the host gets paid.
It won't be for everyone, but as a follower of Jesus (a Christian to everyone else) I have seen the power of prayer. I do believe there is a God and I do believe prayer changes things. This world is not perfect, so bad stuff will happen, but I do believe God is good. Also, anyone can pray, believer or not.
This is a website with lots of prayer tools including a specific prayer for the current situation in Ukraine.
I guess the last thing to do, is to let the people of Ukraine know that we stand by them and not assume all Russians approve of the war. The Bible says perfect love casts out fear, maybe this can be a time when love overrules.