“Take apples, please, these are of Papirovka cultivar, they are very tasty,” pastor Fedir of the Druzhkivka’s Light of the Gospel church told us. The church is now caring about five displaced families, 14 people in all, who have fled Horlivka.
“We have always helped low-income families. From time to time, we delivered to their homes food bought with the money of our parishioners. We cannot afford much, but we do help 10 families once a month. Once the hostilities started, we were approached by the city authorities and offered to take part in helping the displaced persons. We agreed. Initially, we helped refugee families from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, now it is displaced persons from Horlivka. We have had five families housed at the municipal rehabilitation center (which has not been working for a year), some families still get rations from us,” the pastor told us. “Our options are limited. But we will help with what we can, as long as we will be able to.”
According to the pastor, the scale of the church’s help activities depends on donations from parishioners. Some bring tomatoes from their vegetable gardens, some donate money. However, the financial situation of the parishioners is far from stable now, as Druzhkivka’s major plants are out of operation, and jobs are hard to get. “The most stable group of our parishioners are, of course, retirees,” he said.
“The evangelical tradition includes doing deeds of mercy and helping people. You might remember the story of the Good Samaritan, who helped the needy man when finding him on the road. We must emulate his actions,” the pastor went on. Even if the help from parishioners decreases, Fedir said that they would donate fruits of their orchards and vegetable gardens in any case. He treated us to sour-sweet Papirovka apples.
According to him, some other churches are also trying to help the displaced. For example, the Church of St. Nicholas in Druzhkivka organized daily free dinners for the displaced persons. What really would help today is creating a coordinating council of churches, which could deal with the systematization of information on military operations, the needs of the displaced persons, and perhaps, coordinating its activities with the authorities. Thus, the help’s effect would increase by an order of magnitude.
As for the moral and psychological support, the pastor commented thus: “Not everyone is ready to be frank about their feelings. After all, these people have not come here from a peaceful place. They had to spend four to five days hiding in a bomb shelter. They are so emotionally stressed that every rustle causes them to shiver.”
“We the Christians have always used ‘soul therapy,’ as we call it. Maybe we do not provide the kind of assistance provided by psychologists, but we are always ready to help via compassion and understanding. If a person wants to open their soul, we are always ready to listen,” he continued (there is a psychological assistance center opened at the city hall). By the way, as we waited for pastor Fedir, he delivered his sermon on the goodness and compassion.
Druzhkivka itself is now housing 237 refugees, 77 of them are children. It is people from Donetsk and Horlivka now. In addition, 200 pupils of the Torez Boarding School and Kindergarten for Children with Psycho-Neurological Diseases live in the city after having been moved here following a shelling. Prior to that, Druzhkivka admitted people from the neighboring cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Almost all of these people have returned to their homes by now.
The Druzhkivka City Council said that people help the refugees to the best of their abilities. Some bring food, some donate money, some again stand ready to provide temporary housing. There was even a woman who cooked borscht and brought it in buckets. Some small companies provided food assistance, while large plants did not provide anything.
“Our people are very responsive, they are ready to share everything they have. However, food shortage is now worse than ever before. Our stores will last for two days, and then what? After all, we have breastfeeding babies to support as well. Children’s clothing is in demand as well,” the town hall’s officials commented.
The city council immediately announced that it was ready to help the displaced persons. All information can be obtained from the municipal website or on a personal visit to the city council. Khrystyna from Donetsk did so. She left Horlivka under fire, leaving grandparents and taking only essentials with her, such as documents and a few dresses. The rest of her property has been left in Donetsk at a rented apartment, where she moved recently.
“I left Horlivka by an electric train, which was still running then. An acquaintance of mine told me that help is offered in the liberated cities. When on the train, I slept through my station, and left the train only in Sloviansk, so I had to return. On arriving here, I immediately went to the city council and got help at once,” our interlocutor told us.
Khrystyna recently graduated from college as a seamstress. She is trying to get a job as assistant seamstress, so as to earn some money at least. She is living in a room of a boarding school for now, receiving food assistance and hoping that promised financial assistance materializes soon.
“A woman from Horlivka is my roommate. She is a hairdresser. Recently, I saw her getting 30 hryvnias for a haircut she did for our neighbor. It is good money. I, on the other hand, cannot carry a sewing machine with me,” the migrant said. Khrystyna hopes that the conflict will be over soon, and she will return to Donetsk.
It should be said that the municipality is doing everything in their power to help people, transferring pensioners to Druzhkivka’s list allowing them to get their money where they live now. The same applies to other social benefits. The council is also helping to find jobs, although the city itself has high unemployment.
As for the patriotic spirit, it is evident here, despite the fact that everything remains the same: the main street is still Lenin Street, leading through plants, the Palace of Culture, the city council building, and a monument to those killed in the October Revolution and World War II to the square with Vladimir Lenin’s monument. At the beginning of the street, the air itself is unbreathable because of industrial fumes. In the center, of course, it is easier, or maybe one just gets used to it.
The city itself was not damaged, just some blank shells fell on old school camps. The city hall officials said that if these shells exploded, the damage would be huge. Billboards in the city center read: “Everything will be fine,” “Ukraine is knowledge,” “Ukraine is love” and so on. Pigeons fly, cats roam under people’s feet. A cafe in the center has four women in their forties sitting there and talking about business. Speakers are blaring the iconic Wind of Change song by Scorpions. Of course, it sounds a bit strange against the background of Lenin, but maybe the change will come nonetheless?