Slavic churches form Ukrainian Relief Coalition
In the greater Spokane region, there have been many tears shed and many prayers said for the people of Ukraine since war began there in February.
Much material and financial aid has been collected and now a coalition has formed to help resettle refugees from Ukraine.
About 10 percent—50,000—of the area's population of about 500,000 are Slavic and half of them are Ukrainian, said Alexander Kaprian, pastor of Pilgrim Slavic Baptist Church in downtown Spokane.
People in Spokane's 15 Slavic churches and the Slavic community—from Ukraine, Russia and countries once in the former Soviet Union—have personal ties, family and friends in Ukraine, many in areas like Mariupol that have been turned to rubble.
They are in pain with worry. Some have not heard from family, except where cell phone service continues.
"Our members have families and connections in many towns," said Alexander. "They were sending cash."
He is among the pastors and members of Ukrainian/Russian/Slavic and other local churches and organizations in Spokane that formed the Ukraine Relief Coalition (URC).
They have two goals.
First they are collecting humanitarian aid and supplies to ship to Ukrainian partners on the ground in hot zones and areas that may be overlooked.
Second, they are establishing a network of local churches, business owners and government representatives to support incoming refugee families with housing, schooling and more.
Eight Ukrainian families have come and more are on the way, said Alexander.
The coalition asks church partners to designate a representative to communicate with the URC and to consider adopting a family.
Church representatives are asked to delegate tasks of finding housing, doing city tours, taking families grocery shopping, filling out forms and other services to help families acclimate to their new home. Church representatives are to be aware of needs of families and find church members to meet them.
"We are grateful for the support and generosity we have received from church partners, local organizations and individuals desiring to send aid and support Ukrainian families," said Boris Borisov on behalf of the URC board.
"We ask for your continued prayers and for the restoration of peace and an end to war, as well as wisdom for our team," he said. "We look forward to partnering with you."
The Adopt a Family program started because there is a grant of "humanitarian parole" for foreign residents to travel to the U.S. without a visa in case of an emergency or for public interest reasons. Some will come as part of family reunification. The U.S. will accept 100,000 Ukrainian refugees.
Over the years, Pilgrim Slavic Baptist welcomed refugees and families from Ukraine, Slavic countries and Africa, through World Relief.
Alexander, who came to Spokane in 1997 with 3,000 Slavic people, said they knew there was conflict for eight years in Eastern Ukraine, but there was not war.
"No one could believe that such a horrible war would happen. We are shocked," he said. "My home town is destroyed and relatives have disappeared. The area of town where they lived was destroyed."
"Many, especially those who have come more recently, are crying much of the time and depressed," he said. "I see photos of Mariupol destroyed and I cry, even though I have been away 33 years."
About 80 percent of the members at Pilgrim Slavic Baptist are Ukrainian and the rest are Russians and from former Soviet republics.
About 85 percent of the 500 members at Bethlehem Slavic Baptist are Ukrainians and others are from Belarus, Moldavia, Bulgaria, Russia and Estonia.
"Our members are experiencing pain and sorrow. We're doing all we can do to help," said Nikolay Grishk, pastor of that church for 25 years. He comes from Kyiv.
"We appreciate that Spokane is open and has a good heart. Many express their love," Nikolay said.
Alexander commented that "people in our churches may have different opinions, but we do not want people to be divided. We are Christians and Americans now.
"We are one body of Christ. We can pray together and help together. We are all Americans with different backgrounds," he said.
"Leaders of Ukraine and Russia must meet and compromise. I pray God gives them wisdom to stop the war," Alexander added.
While people can give through the Ukraine Relief Coalition, Alexander said they can also give through their own churches.
He appreciates that other clergy, local leaders and government officials have been supportive.
For information, call 919-7889 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.