The Protestant Church in Chernivtsi has already received one and a half thousand internally displaced people. How the center for IDPs works and what people who fled the war tell — Babel reportage

Oksana Kryvitska
Yuliana Skibitska
The Protestant Church in Chernivtsi has already received one and a half thousand internally displaced people. How the center for IDPs works and what people who fled the war tell — Babel reportage

Oksana Krivitska / «Бабель»

Since Russiaʼs full-scale invasion of Ukraine, more than 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes and moved to safer regions. Some of them come to Chernivtsi to go abroad, some stay in the city. The Bethel Evangelical Pentecostal Church has hosted nearly 1,500 people since the first days of the war. At the request of Babel, journalist Oksana Kryvitska describes how the center for displaced people in the Protestant church was set up and what the people who are there now went through.

Approximately 150 IDPs now live in the Church of the Evangelical Pentecostal Christians "Bethel". Ukrainians used to celebrate weddings here, now Ukrainians from regions, where there are active hostilities, are having lunch, rest, and escape from the war. Before the war, they prayed twice a week, and now — every day.

During the day it is always noisy — children play in the corner with toys, and settlers often communicate at tables. These tables are set three times a day — breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served. No one has complained about the food in the church, it is quite diverse: porridge for breakfast, something sweet, first and second for lunch, and even meat and dessert for dinner.

Oksana Krivitska / «Бабель»

The food is cooked here from products that are brought as help. The church also buys food and other necessities for donations from abroad and volunteer help.

Nadiia, a 40-year-old local resident, is responsible for feeding the IDPs. She used to cook for weddings, which often took place in the main hall. She recalls that on Sunday, February 27, "cooking was in full swing" for visitors. Nadiia sent her children to Romania in order to dedicate herself entirely to volunteering. She works all day: compiles menus, controls cooking. In the kitchen, she usually works with four women, four more girls set the table, and three clean up.

"I donʼt know if I could cook borsch at home." Iʼd better run and cook it in church. Now my life is here. I spend the night at home, gather strength, and return, — shares Nadiia.

Oksana Krivitska / «Бабель»

The woman says that the first settlers did not stay long — they immediately went to visit relatives abroad. They cried at the tables and refused to eat for two days. Now people are coming who "have no one anywhere", they stay to live here longer.

Iryna came with her young son from Chernihiv. She learned about the beginning of the war at work — she worked as an assistant cook in a kindergarten. Her husband, a military man, was summoned at five in the morning, and she has not seen him since. At first, they lived with their mother-in-law in a private house.

"We were constantly hiding in the cellar," Irina recalls. — We were afraid that if the house collapses, who will pull us out? All neighbors united and helped each other. When all the neighbors went to spend the night in the basement, we said: God forbid, we will dig everyone up.

Then she was scared because the neighbors began to leave en masse. Then they decided not to hide in the cellar, but to spend the night in the house. They thought it was safer. Until shells came five houses away. Many houses were destroyed then, three burned to the ground because firefighters did not have water to put them out. Irina remembers how one woman managed to jump out of her burning house with only a cat in her arms. She stood and watched her house burn.

Oksana Krivitska / «Бабель»

After that, Irina and her son began to spend the night in a basement of a high-rise building. A relative from abroad helped to contact the volunteer who takes people out. So they ended up in Chernivtsi. Later, Irina and her son joined the women who planned to go to Norway.

20-year-old Dasha is responsible for medical care at the center. She graduated from medical college and now combines volunteering with work in private dentistry. Usually, Dasha volunteers almost around the clock and does not sleep until the second or third night: she disassembles medicines that come from abroad. Writes the dosage and active ingredients to understand why they are needed. Then she rests until six or seven in the morning and then works again.

- Once I was here for almost three days. Just came home, bathed, lay down for an hour, and came back.

At first, Dasha "worked at the border" with other volunteers. There were long lines of refugees, and they made sandwiches, tea, and coffee for them. Dasha tells how on the first day at the border a man approached her and just gave her a hundred dollars, although they had not even set up a tent. He said, "Itʼs for what youʼre doing.”

Oksana Krivitska / «Бабель»

Later they volunteered and opened a center for IDPs in the church. People sleep here on two benches and mattresses, which until recently were not in the church. But one day a large consignment of mattresses came from church friends from Romania. Now it can accommodate 150 people at a time.

Bohdan usually meets newcomers. The guy studied to be a car mechanic and was looking for a job. "After February 24, I didnʼt have to," he added. Now Bohdan, like many others, devotes almost all his free time to volunteering. The guy settles new ones and shows free seats, toilet and shower. At other times he drives a car and buys auto parts.

The boy remembers how a family from the east came in the first days of the war. The man cried while talking about the destroyed house. He later sent the family abroad, but remained in Chernivtsi and enlisted in the Territorial Defense Forces.

Volunteer Vadym, Bohdanʼs older brother, remembers a similar story. He says that a man from Mariupol cried when he told about leaving the city. His family was kept on a bead.

Vadym himself visited the east of Ukraine. He has always wanted to help, so since 2016, he has regularly delivered humanitarian aid to hotspots. Delivered not only food, once drove "a whole bus with household appliances.”

Oksana Krivitska / «Бабель»

Tetiana from the town of Popasna, Luhansk oblast, has been living in the church for a week. At first, she wondered where to hide if she heard a rumble outside the window. And only later did she realize that she was now in a safe place. Tetiana often talks about the horrors she experienced in her hometown, as she counted the seconds when she ran away from the shells. She admits that even for some time, under the influence of propaganda, she believed that the Ukrainian side was shooting at civilians, because "everyone there said so."

- We didnʼt have communication for five days, we hid in bomb shelters. The citizens said many things, and it is difficult to think adequately in such a situation. When I got out of there — I understood everything, — says Tetiana.

She decided to look for a better life in Germany — her daughter recently moved there.

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Oksana Krivitska / «Бабель»