A missionary group in western Ukraine transforms a church into a refuge

As Russian forces invaded a small town in western Ukraine in March, a family of 12 children were forced into hiding in the basement of their home.

Little did the family of 14 know they would have no way of escaping for around two weeks.

“It happened so fast,” said family friend Michael Pratt, who runs a refugee shelter in western Ukraine. “…They couldn’t get out when they tried to get out. They would get shot. Food has become very scarce. Their power supply cycled on and off, so they couldn’t communicate much. Eventually they were rescued. And now, today, most of the children are in Spain, and some are in Hungary, so they are safe.

This is one of many incidents that have prompted Pratt and his team of missionaries in western Ukraine to continue providing refuge for refugees as they make their way to the border between Ukraine and Poland, he told KSAT 12 in a recent interview with Zoom.

Pratt has lived in Ukraine for 23 years and in his current city for 12 years.

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He and his team turned their small, non-denominational Christian church into a refugee shelter just over a month ago when the Russian invasion began.

So far, Pratt said he and his team have served more than 500 people and provided more than 2,000 meals. The shelter is still open today and continues to serve refugees.

“We have been used to war. We had war for the last eight years on our eastern border, and when things developed we saw a need and just decided to be ready to meet that need,” he told KSAT.

Pratt’s team purchases items for the shelter through donations they have received online, he said.

KSAT agreed not to release the name of its organization or the specific location of the church because Pratt feared being targeted by Russian forces. He shared photos from the shelter.

The church is affiliated with a congregation located in the United States

Meet an American missionary who turned his church into a shelter and refuge for refugees.

Turning a Church into a Refugee Shelter

Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24 with shelling and rocket attacks on several major cities, including the capital, kyiv.

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The offensive amounted to the largest ground war in Europe since World War II, according to the Associated Press.

Pratt and his team knew many refugees would be heading their way, fleeing the war-torn country, so they went to work.

“We bought mattresses, all the bedding we needed. We put a shower. We have extended our kitchen. We have put together a team of volunteers and animators. The training was on the job training. We had never done anything like this before,” he said. “We started letting our friends in eastern Ukraine and on our website and social media know that we had a place for people.”

Word spread quickly and it didn’t take long for their shelter to be contacted at all times of the day, he said.

“The first two weeks were non-stop. Our phones, various social media, texting — everything rang and buzzed throughout the day and night,” Pratt said. “In the middle of the night we get calls from people who are desperate and looking for a place to go.”

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Their shelter can accommodate up to 25 refugees a day, he said. However, if they were at full capacity, he said there were several other shelters in the area where refugees could find comfort.

As for deciding who to help and when, Pratt said it was on a first-come, first-served basis, but her team focused on families, women with children and the elderly.

Come as a refugee, stay as a guest

“We call them our guests, not refugees. And our goal is to help them feel loved and accepted,” Pratt said.

When guests enter the church, they are asked to stay one or two nights and are given three hot meals a day and a place to sleep.

Although refugees enter a safe and secure space at the shelter, the impact of war on their lives and well-being is evident, Pratt said.

“When you see them walk through the door of our shelter, they are extremely traumatized. You can see it in their faces,” he said. “We immediately encourage them by assuring them that they have a safe and caring environment.”

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A child pets a dog inside the church-turned-shelter in western Ukraine. (Photo courtesy of Michael Pratt)

Recently, foot traffic has slowed in the shelter, with around 10-12 refugees visiting each day. Pratt said they’ve been through two big waves, but many people are still trapped in some of the bigger cities due to the attacks.

His team expects more refugees to arrive in the days and weeks to come. Pratt said his team is ready to help on both sides of the border.

“We have another team set up on the Polish side to help refugees once they have crossed, and so we are working on both sides of the border to get people to safety and to their final destination,” did he declare.

Attacks hit close to home

Pratt and his family were not immune to ongoing Russian attacks.

One morning around 6 a.m., the air raid sirens sounded as he and his family lay in bed.

While sirens have become routine for many Ukrainians over the past month – with loud wails filling the streets multiple times a day and night – this time was different.

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Pratt said he had just woken up when four cruise missiles hit a facility not far from his family’s home.

“I heard the first missile hit and immediately jumped out of bed and ran to get my kids and get us to safety,” he said. “Before I could even reach the kids, the second hit, then the third, then the fourth. By the time we were safe, it was all over.

His family was safe after the attack, but it’s a moment that has stuck with Pratt ever since.

Thank the European Union

Millions of Ukrainian refugees have already fled the country. This number is likely to increase, as it is unclear how long Russia’s attacks will last.

The latest Associated Press report said on Sunday that Ukraine and its Western allies had “growing evidence” showing that Russia was withdrawing its forces around kyiv, but building up its numbers in the eastern part of the country. Ukraine.

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Several EU countries have joined forces to welcome Ukrainian refugees who have escaped the war, offering them shelter, jobs and more to help them make a fresh start. It’s a gesture that Michael says is appreciated beyond words.

“Thank you Poland and all EU countries. You have welcomed us with open arms. You have done so much to give homes, shelters, jobs and health care and all the ways you have really helped the people of Ukraine,” he said.

Despite the conflict, chaos, fear and uncertainty that comes with war, Pratt said there was a silver lining. He brought people together, working towards a common goal: to keep people alive and safe.

“So many things that divide us in life are suddenly disappearing and the goodness of humanity is emerging in very, very big and significant ways in Ukraine, Poland, Germany, France and all EU countries,” Pratt said. “People just put aside the things we sometimes fight for and recognize that it’s time to help others. That’s what encourages me. »

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