THE leader of a Christian charity has returned from visiting Ukrainian refugees in Romania, and says the vulnerability of women towards human trafficking, and the levels of anxiety amongst teenagers over their futures are two of the main challenges he encountered.
James Vaughton, CEO of Transform Europe Network (TEN) was on a regular visit to the charity’s Romanian partners and projects late last month when he was able to spend time with refugees from across Ukraine, of all ages, and listen to their stories.
James said: “
Women and young girls feel very vulnerable – many staying indoors in their temporary accommodation, not wanting to go out. Our church partners ensure that volunteers must spend considerable time with them, seeking to address their personal health needs and offer reassurance and safety. But the number of hours they spend indoors is leading to isolation and loneliness. They feel very vulnerable and don’t trust men, so our partner church’s ‘woman to woman’ support is vital.
In the first five weeks of the war starting, TEN raised over £100,000 for Ukrainian relief (now £120k – 03.0.22) – one of the charity’s largest-ever emergency appeal in its 55-year history. It has enabled the charity to support Ukrainians in many ways, including medical and personal health supplies, food and accommodation, a mini-bus to help collect refugees from the boarder, take them to processing centres, and where possible, to an onward destination. He says the charity’s long-term relationships with churches across countries neighbouring Ukraine means the charity can direct funds very specifically.
When I was in Romania, a text came through from a Ukrainian pastor to one of our partner church leaders. It was a list of very specific items they needed to help Ukrainians which had fled their hometowns. I was able to accompany our contact to the pharmacy and buy medicines, and exactly what was needed for that group and the next day, the goods were transported back into Ukraine.” For security reasons James is unable to give exact locations of where he stayed, some of the projects he visited, and wherein Ukraine the charity’s relief is being directed.
However, whilst visiting partner churches in the Constanta region of Romania, James sat down with groups of Ukrainian teenagers. Through an interpreter he heard their stories. He explained:
Young people, many of whom are in school, or in their early 20s, had to flee and now face very uncertain futures. They have no idea when they might return, and if that is possible, what there will be for them. They are asking whether they should try to settle in their new refugee country, or move further West? It is a stage of life normally full of opportunities and possibilities and yet, it had been denied them.
On the other hand, they, and charity leaders talking to them, are very conscious that if all the educated young people leave Ukraine for good, there will literally be a ‘brain-drain’, denying the reformed Ukraine of much-needed professional women and men necessary to rebuild for the future. They are having to make huge decisions about their futures, and under huge pressure. Our partner church volunteers just hang out with them, listen, and try to give them time, space, and a listening ear.
James says that whilst many refugees are currently housed in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation, the holiday season in eastern Europe is soon to start. Owners of these properties will need them vacated so they can get the much-needed seasonal income on which they rely all year. Where tens of thousands of refugees will go is not yet clear.
James’ lasting memory is how life for a refugee creates such anxiety – even over the most basic things in life. He said:
It’s so hard for us to really put ourselves into the shoes of a Ukrainian refugee. So many things we take for granted here, like taking the car to the garage, or going to the dentist – or other things that happen in life where we have the resources on hand – are just not easily available. They are in a new country, with little or no money, and don’t speak the language. That creates a lot of day-to-day anxiety – on top of all the major future and family decision they have to make. Thankfully our partner churches can help, but the need is vast.
If you would like to support the work of TEN’s partners in Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, and Montenegro working alongside Ukrainian refugees visit www.ukrainecrisis.org.uk
Issued by Transform Europe Network