When the floors of their flat began to shake and through their windows they could watch the crisscrossing missile and shell tracer plumes being exchanged between the advancing Russian forces and the Ukrainian defense force, Olya decided that it was time to leave their home near Mykolaev, northeast of Odessa. MTW’s work in Mykoliev began in 1994 when a Commission team arrived, and this was followed with planting a church of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ukraine.
Olya’s son, now fighting for Ukraine on the front lines, was a member of that church, but she and her husband had not joined. This was how Olya’s story began as Masha Shepherd retold it after meeting Olya personally after arriving in Krakow, Poland. Masha, MTW missionary from L’viv, is the primary case worker of the MTW Crisis Response Team interfacing with displaced Ukrainians that come into our network in fleeing the war.
From Mykolaev, Olya, about age 55, set out without her husband, who refused to leave his home. “What would I do?” was his rationale. Olya found a seat open in a car going west from a well-known Viber thread where transportation opportunities were posted. With a bag in hand, she set out. In the car, Olya said that people kept to themselves – protective of themselves and in their own thoughts. After many hours, Olya was dropped off at the railroad station in L’viv without knowing what was next. After getting the attention of someone, they asked, where are you going? Her response, “I’m going nowhere.” The person said she needed to go to the ‘volunteers’ in another part of the city. She found her way via trolley bus to this place. During this movement, her bag with her clothes was stolen, but she said that nothing important was lost – she still had her purse. At the ‘volunteer center’ she discovered that there was no help for her there – the center was already beyond capacity. They told her to go back to the train station and from there figure out how to continue going west.
Olya described that she was cold. When she had left Mykolaev, spring was trying to come, and the air was warmer than what she discovered in L’viv. When she returned to the train station the day was already late and she sat going nowhere. Olya described how she became fearful when she saw certain people around her in the train station. Her phone still had a charge and she decided to call her son who was fighting on the front lines of the war. She didn’t expect him to be able to answer but she was becoming desperate. He answered. When she told him that she had left Mykolaev and was stranded in L’viv, he said, ‘Mom, why didn’t you call me before!’ Her son called friends in his church who knew people in the L’viv church. Her son counseled her to go as far away as she could from the war, but the last thing Olya’s son said was, ‘Mom, stay right where you are, don’t go anywhere!’ Evangelical wheels went into motion and the friends from the L’viv church gathered her at the train station and brought her to our L’viv church shelter.
The Crisis Response Team already had a caravan going to L’viv the next day bringing in supplies and bringing back to Krakow other displaced Ukrainians. Masha heard about Olya and her desire to leave Ukraine during the short time she was in L’viv. Even though little was known about Olya at that point, wheels went into motion to find a possible placement for Olya somewhere in Europe.
Only a few days before this, through contacts who had been in Germany with the military and worshipping in a PCA church plant there and who had since left the military and moved to California – the Crisis Response team in Krakow became aware of this new contact. This new contact was contacted to find out more about what they were doing to help displaced Ukrainians. It was surprising that this couple was currently in Barcelona from their church in California working with a Spanish church and network of believers who were offering places for Ukrainians in their community. Olya’s case was proposed to our contacts in Barcelona, and this led to communications with Spanish Pastor Gabi who only spoke Spanish which pulled in the Spanish abilities of Crisis Response Team member, Beth Stanton, who grew up in Mexico as an MK. Beth and Pastor Gabi spoke extensively via WhatsApp working out the details of a potential placement and transport to Barcelona for Olya. Of course, it would be Olya’s decision in the end.
When Olya arrived at the Shelter in Krakow the next day, options for placement beyond Krakow were lined up and Barcelona was among them. That evening, Olya joined others in walking to the newly established ‘Help Center’ near the Shelter for a theme night billed, ‘Brazilian Night’ with activities for both children and adults and a meal. It was at the Brazilian Night activity that Masha was able to personally meet Olya and hear more of her story. When Olya heard of the community that was ready to receive her in Barcelona, she agreed that she would go there. Thankfully, the Help Center also has a room of donated clothes where Masha and Olya went through the offereings to replace what had been lost in L’viv.
The chain of events that brought Olya from Mykolaev to Krakow, when she had been going ‘to nowhere’, were also at work through the Spanish connections. There was already a van in transit coming out of Ukraine being driven by two Spaniards who had been volunteering in Ukraine – helping where they could. They already were transporting an older couple who were going to Spain from the devastation of the city of Mariupol, where current estimates are at 5000 being killed by the Russians. This van had room for Olya as well.
The van arrived the next morning at about 7:30 a.m. We came to be with Olya while she waited for the van to arrive and to meet the Spaniards who were driving. These men were wonderful and very considerate of the needs of their precious cargo. They assured us and Olya that everything was good, and all her needs would be cared for in the 30+ hour drive to Barcelona. Introductions were made with the couple from Mariupol and their pet Pekingese, Dina. After goodbyes, we sent Olya with our prayers on her journey ‘to nowhere’ and sent word and pictures to Pastor Gabi who is preparing to welcome her when she arrives in Barcelona.