With residents of Ukraine and surrounding countries continuing to be affected by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, which has been ongoing for about five months, a team of Adventist volunteers are helping refugees and their local community by offering free health care as well as meals and shelter to those in need.
AdventistHelp is a medical nonprofit that has been operating clinics for refugees and vulnerable communities in and around conflict areas since 2015. Their team is currently in Southern Moldova, close to the border of Ukraine. The country of Moldova has received nearly 500,000 Ukrainian refugees since the start of the conflict and is hosting around 80,000 currently.
The operation in Moldova is led by Abel Havresciuc, pastor of the Ghidro Adventist Church in Cahul, Moldova, and his wife, Daria, who manages the operation. Their primary task has been establishing a mobile clinic to service refugees and impoverished host communities requiring free medical care. The clinic is run in partnership with the World Health Organization and the local government.
“We are so happy to have an Adventist presence here supporting this community, who have really suffered over the past few months,” said Michael-John von Hörsten, AdventistHelp vice president. “There are only a handful of medical NGOs operating in Moldova at the moment, so these clinics are filling a crucial gap in the local humanitarian response. ”
Operating one day a week from the local church and the rest of the time from two ambulances, the team serves communities across the southern region of Moldova. Being based 20 kilometers (about 12.5 miles) from the border and more than 200 kilometers (124 miles) from where fighting is taking place, the team is not treating injuries but rather diseases contracted by refugees while fleeing their country on foot, or other chronic and lifestyle diseases unable to be treated elsewhere. The clinic is seeing 50–60 patients a day.
“The most difficult time was during February and March, when it was winter and lots of refugees were arriving by foot. There were many arriving with respiratory infections. There were also many older people requiring check-ups for their health conditions,” explained Daria. “We usually check their blood pressure and blood sugar and give them a general check-up and consultation, like a family doctor would, or find them the medication they need.”
While it is important to address physical needs, many refugees have also experienced emotional and psychological trauma, so AdventistHelp has collaborated with Angelia Clinic in Kyiv, Ukraine, to provide psychiatric care.
“Many refugees have had their physical problems get worse due to psychological stress,” explained Abel. “We’ve been building relationships and spending time with them, talking, listening, and encouraging them. Our goal is to provide complete care, both physically and psychologically, as well as feeding them and providing clothes.”
Thanks to the support of members of the Ghidro Adventist Church, refugees have received clothes, food, and transportation to and from the church and clinic. At first, meals were being provided every day, but as the need has subsided, this is now occurring once a week on Sundays.
“We had three families involved regularly to help with cooking, and then the others with clothing donations and transport,” explained Abel. “We actually got other churches involved and filled up two vans with products and gave them to 60 children from an orphanage. We’ve also had big help from church members abroad in the U.S. and Europe with donations and volunteers.”
“We’ve received clothing donations from Italy, Romania, and other countries,” added Daria. “Mums with kids have come and taken them. We even had a sponsor from the U.S. donate around 15 bags of food per day. And this isn’t only during the conflict; we’ve been doing this since the start of the pandemic.”
SERVING BEYOND UKRAINIAN REFUGEES
While volunteer efforts have been strong for the past five months during the conflict, outreach efforts in Moldova have been ongoing since the start of the pandemic, as it is a poorer country with many people in need.
“We’ve been very active since the pandemic started. The living situation here totally collapsed during the pandemic,” said Abel. “The system was already overwhelmed, but then the Ukrainian refugees came, and it got even worse.”
Abel and Daria went on to explain that many local businesses have taken advantage of the influx of wealthy refugees by increasing their prices, making goods and services inaccessible to locals.
“A hotel room here usually costs €30 per night, but in the first month [of the conflict], room prices went to €400 because the Ukrainians had money. There was no control of pricing,” said Abel.
“Moldova is a poor country. The living standards are worse here, and lots of people need medical care, not just during the conflict, but in general,” added Daria.
“But it’s been amazing to see our church members help,” said Abel. “The people are not wealthy, but they share the little they have. We were impressed when families who only have a one-bedroom house agreed to take in a refugee mother and child.”
In one scenario described by Abel and Daria, an NGO organized a bus to transport Ukrainian refugee children with cancer to Italy for treatment. At the same time, a local Moldavian family was trying to find treatment for their child who also had cancer. When the bus left for Italy, it was half empty, but they refused to take the child.
“This has been the biggest challenge here for us: trying to help Ukrainian refugees whilst also trying to maintain and hopefully improve the standard of living for Moldavians,” said Daria. “So many associations have been working to help only refugees when there is so much need right here.” This is the reason AdventistHelp has a policy of always supporting the host communities that receive refugees as well.
SPIRITUAL OUTREACH FOCUS
Because AdventistHelp aims to assist not only refugees but also locals, they have strong support from the city hall in Moldova, which has taken on legal responsibility and covered Adventist Help’s risk and liability in an agreement signed by Parliament. As such, the council is aware it is an initiative run by the Adventist Church and allows a spiritual outreach focus to take place.
So far, the church has run a special kids concert and activities day, which was attended by a settlement of refugee children, hosted an online evangelistic campaign that many church members watched while housing refugees in their homes, and handed out literature.
“It’s been difficult knowing how to reach people and finding the best way to help them,” explained Abel. “We have been providing people food and medical help, but also giving them spiritual books, encouraging them, and building a relationship. And now members are starting to call their friends and neighbors to come to church to receive free medical care. Where before, people didn’t know there was an Adventist in their building, they are now coming to church. We are hoping we can stay here long enough to see baptisms and lives changed.”
While outreach to refugees and locals is important, the work of AdventistHelp has also ministered to members of other denominations with which it’s partnered.
“The feedback we’ve received from our [non-Adventist] volunteer translators is that they appreciate that our Adventist Church is not afraid of working with other churches and people from other places. We are not trying to separate ourselves from the world. This is uncommon here, so people have found it surprising,” said Daria. “We also have two Adventist medical students who have been coming here to learn from our international volunteers and missionaries. They’re becoming friends with the translators; it’s what we imagined it should look like to collaborate with non-Adventist people.”
In addition, local volunteers have been amazed by the generosity and service of Adventist missionaries and volunteers who have traveled internationally to help.
“It’s been shocking for many to see volunteers coming at their own expense and then donating money when they are here. We have a doctor here right now who is spending $300 a day of his own money on medicines for people in need. They are acting as true Christians. They even come [during] their vacation time. It’s inspiring for all volunteers!”
FORWARD FOCUS—UKRAINE FRONTLINE SUPPORT
This week, another branch of the AdventistHelp team, led by Markus Alt from Switzerland, has returned from a reconnaissance trip to the frontline in Eastern Ukraine. There is currently discussion underway with the Ukraine Department of Defense for AdventistHelp to assist with setting up temporary clinic structures for injured civilians and soldiers coming from the frontline.
Already, four military-grade Swiss clinic units have been imported by the team into an unspecified region near the frontline, which will be used as trauma stabilization points. In addition, a digital x-ray unit and ultrasound facility have been supplied to one of the main local hospitals caring for injured civilians and soldiers.
“The Russian government has been targeting hospitals; they’ve destroyed more than 100 already,” explained von Hörsten. “This makes management of critically injured patients from the frontline incredibly complex. The need for medical equipment and infrastructure is enormous. We are trying to find funding to import more medical units and hospital tents. To give you an idea, weatherproof hospital tents cost around $16,000 each, providing space for 20 ward beds. Military clinic units cost around $8,000 each.
“The more resources that come in, the more we can expand our operations,” von Hörsten continued. “We’re a small organization, so we just use what we get to try to reach the most people. It’s a step of faith, but the Lord always provides.”
If you’d like to volunteer with AdventistHelp, contact them at [email protected]