I was washing the dishes when I heard the sound. It was a sound that I had never heard before, but instinctively knew it wasn’t a good one. The people in Ukraine hear it almost every day. It was my first air alert. At that moment, it felt like my heart plunged into my stomach. I wish I could say it was my only air alert, but over the six days I was in Ukraine last December, we had five.
It was a curious thing to witness because the reality of the experience didn’t match my expectation. During an event that could create panic, I saw peace in a situation that is created to instill fear and destruction. I learned so much on this trip and will be forever grateful to my friends who taught me valuable lessons: including that peace is not based on our circumstances.
I've been home processing my trip for a few weeks, yet it remains challenging to find the words to describe the current circumstances in Ukraine. Did I see the destruction from the war? Yes! Did I see hurt and pain? Definitely! Did I learn? Absolutely! I learned that life continues during the war.
Although the war rages on, life does too. It's harder now, but there is also a heightened appreciation for life itself. Their joy is not dependent on anything besides the Lord. God has become very large to them, and it has made their problems appear much more insignificant.
On the Sunday I was in Ukraine, I went to church, went grocery shopping, and had dinner at a new pizza restaurant with dear friends. We laughed until we cried and cried until we laughed. After a fun evening talking, laughing, and reminiscing, my friend thanked me for making her forget about the war for a few hours. It was a sweet reminder that God even cares about having fun and it can be a gift to escape fear.
Disrupted, but Not Derailed
Life goes on, but of course, life does look different. Airports are still closed. This means everyone must navigate their travel across an outside country's border into and out of Ukraine. When our car finally got up to the border crossing to leave Ukraine, I saw person after person with one small suitcase and a backpack. My heart sank. I knew. I knew that their whole life was being carried in a suitcase across a border to safety.
Although I didn't know their whole story, I knew that their lives, like my friends' lives, had been impacted. For personal safety, Ukrainians must carefully follow social media to know when there is a current air alert. They depend on these mobile ‘news outlets’ as the alarms don't always sound in the city, and if you are in the country, you are too remote to hear the alerts. Most of my friends try not to move locations during an air alert. This means birthday parties are missed, grocery store trips end up with no food (they close the store and make people go outside), and fun times with friends are cancelled. When kids are in school, they must stop learning to go down to the bomb shelter. The kids don't mind, because they eat snacks, but these alerts can go from 10 minutes to 4 hours. These kids learned through COVID and now they are trying to learn through a war.
Our Role: Far – But Not Apart
What I kept learning from almost everyone was the importance of you and me. Yep, you and I, who are sitting here in America. They need us. You see -- what I learned was that everyone I met wants to make sure Ukraine is not forgotten.
This is where everyone can do something to help. We are the ones that can share the stories, pray for them, and come alongside them. You might not know someone personally in Ukraine and that's okay; just by reading this essay you are now more connected and aware. Please use this knowledge and understanding to share what you’re learning, ask questions, and advocate for them.
If you need ideas of how to get involved or how to not forget Ukraine, please reach out! I've got plenty of options to consider. Thank you in advance for coming alongside our dear Ukrainian friends in their time of significant need. I'll end with the same goodbye I got from all my friends: Please don't forget about Ukraine.