Why I Love Ukraine

I could write a book about the many reasons I love Ukraine, the country that stole my heart 5 years ago and is breaking it now. I could go on and on about the culture, the food, the landscape, the history, the architecture, the churches and the art. But the biggest reason I fell in love with a country that is not my own is the people.

I’ll be honest. When I first came to DTS in 2017, my only exposure to Ukraine was through the orphans I had fundraised for. I had a burning passion for children with special needs (I still do) and the history of their abandonment in institutions. Somewhere in my subconscious, I thought the people must not care about these children and adults. But I saw that they did! I saw (most of) the caretakers at Plyskiv genuinely smiling and enjoying being around these adults, despite the challenges. I saw families keeping their children with Down Syndrome and pushing their children in wheelchairs around the streets of Vinnytsia. I didn’t see it often, but I saw it enough that it surprised me. God brought my internal biases crashing down. I realized that it wasn’t a lack of love and care, but a lack of resources that meant children with special needs were still surrendered to orphanages.

And then I learned it went further than that. Ukrainians are passionate people. They are hospitable. Every church we went to, every rehab we served, every person we visited welcomed us with open arms. It is expected etiquette to bring something to add to the table if you visit people, whether for a meal or coffee/chai. They were so happy to hear that we liked visiting their country, which at the time most people barely knew where it was on a map.

Maidan Square in Kyiv, just a few weeks ago.

Ukrainians care deeply about their country. This has never been more evident. Nearly 150,000 people have returned to Ukraine since the war began, most of them men coming to fight! Before Russia invaded, people fully expected Putin’s mighty army to swoop in and destroy Ukraine within days. But the Ukrainian soldiers said Go F*** Yourselves! They have defended Ukraine valiantly, holding off a country more than SEVEN times its geographical size and FOUR times its military size. This of course was estimated before many untrained civilians volunteered to join the territorial reserve.

But it runs deeper than that. People in western Ukraine began opening their homes to complete strangers fleeing from Kharkiv, Mariupol, Kherson, and Kyiv. Overnight, everyone became family. Everyone united to help each other, and Ukraine became stronger than ever. There was always an initial shock and grief, of course. But then they picked themselves up and got busy. They helped clean the shelters. They made tea. They carried on. They are Ukrainian.

A Ukrainian family I met in Romania. The grandmother next to me, Valya, is deaf and we had fun learning each other’s sign language. They have now moved on to Belgium.

Here in Romania, our YWAM team has been busy cooking hot meals 6 days a week for nearly a month. We rotate through volunteers and occasionally local restaurants donate a meal or two. And so do the Ukrainians. If they aren’t moving on to another country to reunite with family, if they stay here, some volunteer right along with us. They help cook meals with a Ukrainian flavor. And boy oh boy does it bring everyone comfort, hope, and joy.

They have lost everything. When you only have room for one suitcase a piece, when you only have time to run with the clothes on your back, you can’t bring much. Maybe your grandmother’s scarf that she knit you. Maybe the family Bible. Maybe a baptismal cross or a small icon. But even that isn’t guaranteed. They have nothing. Some of them from Luhansk, Donetsk, and now Kharkiv and Mariupol don’t plan on returning. Their cities have been reduced to rubble. But many still have hope that one day they will return. One day they will rebuild. Ukraine is the only thing they haven’t lost. Not really, not yet. Ukraine is the one thing they are holding onto with a death grip. That, and each other.

Lunch with Sasha, shortly before the invasion began.

And that is why I love Ukraine.

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