Memories are weird. Sometimes they come out of nowhere, hitting hard and fast.
Yesterday I was out running errands and looking out the window of my taxi, like I normally do. The houses are interesting here, and the grape vines that most homes seem to have are almost ripe. We got to this one section and something about the apartments reminded me of Kyiv. It wasn’t exactly the same; actually it was quite different after the first spot that triggered the memory. But all of a sudden I was remembering my drive from our little village to the school in Kyiv where I taught for only a week. I remember the houses, the parks, the bridges, and places that we passed. I was barely getting to know the kids and learn their names. I wouldn’t be able to recognize all of them now, but a few of them stick in my head.
The little girl with braids and glasses who loved science and was always super engaged with whatever we talked about. The red-headed boy with bright eyes who got off topic all the time but was the sweetest thing. My 2nd grade class who barely knew English and were very surprised when I re-directed them in Russian since they weren’t listening to my English instructions (they behaved a little better after that). And my one high school class where they were definitely trying to stall for time with the new teacher so they didn’t have to do anything in class but were still nice and paid attention to the lesson eventually.
I still miss them. Every so often I’ll think about them and wonder where they are and how they’re doing. Are they safe? Did they leave Kyiv? Were they forced to see too much? Are they getting the help they need?
In the past few days volunteers and YWAMers from around the world have gathered at our base here in Cluj. We are the launching point into Ukraine. In total there are 40 people from 9 different nations who will go and meet with the Kyiv base and their team of volunteers. They will spend the next week building 50-70 temporary tiny houses so that Ukrainians will have a warm place to shelter during the upcoming winter. A small place they can call their own while they restart their lives from nothing. The building project will take place in the same region where we lived. The villages near Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel received heavy damage. Some villages (like where our friends lived) are up to 70% destroyed and unlivable.
This is just the first trip. There will be others for sure. Our goal, between our base and the Kyiv base, is to build 100 of these small homes before winter. The team left early this morning. Our hearts ache to go with them, but unfortunately it was not God’s timing. We know this, and there is nothing we can do. But it still hurts. We are excited that our friends will get to experience Ukraine, some for the first time, even though it is not the same anymore. But oh how we want to go with them. To go home.
Why Ukraine? Why do we love it so much? Why does it feel like home? What do we like about it? We’ve had a lot of people ask us these questions. I’ve written about our journey to get there before, but that still doesn’t give a full answer. I can talk about the culture and the history and the architecture and the people, but it still doesn’t do justice. Our hearts belong in Ukraine. They have since 2017. It is a supernatural feeling with no logic or reasoning. God has called us there, 100%.
Yesterday marked 6 months of war. It has been half a year already. It’s been half a year too long. Six months since we woke up hearing bombs landing on Hostomel airport. Six months since we left our little apartment we so dearly loved never to return. Six months since we hid in a flooded basement not knowing what would happen. Six months since we got in a car and fled the city, praying we could get out safely, knowing that staying was even more dangerous. Six months since we moved from shelter to shelter, slowly making our way out of Ukraine.
For the most part we’ve adjusted ok. 99% of the time we’re fine. But then there will be a helicopter or a plane flying low to the ground on its way to the airport or hospital. Or a car alarm will go off suddenly. (That’s real by the way, not just in the movies. The shockwaves from the bombs set off all the car alarms at once.)
Yesterday was Ukraine’s Independence Day. It’s only 31 years since they became their own country, free from centuries of oppression and invaders. That’s only a few years older than I am. Zelensky is 44 right now. He was only 13 at the time. You know what it was like in America in 1991? Are you old enough to remember? George H.W. Bush was president. Operation Desert Storm began. The original Beauty and the Beast was released. It was the year Freddie Mercury died. It might seem like a long time ago from a person’s perspective. But for a country?
Ukrainian culture and history goes back for over 1,000 years, all the way back to the 9th century. Thirty-one years is not a long time at all. It has not been an easy journey. There have been ups and downs, and mistakes, and corruption as with any government. But they are trying. And it doesn’t help that Russia began its attack in 2014, when the country was only 23 years old. (Younger than I am now.) It has barely been able to recover from the Soviet Union before Russia is already trying to take over again.
It was a bittersweet holiday. In Ukraine itself, celebrations are banned for safety reasons. They are a target. So there were no parades, no parties, no large group gatherings. Throughout the course of the day the air sirens went off 189 times. Kyiv air defense took out 11 missiles that were aimed at the city (thankfully none of them reached their intended target!). But one of Russia’s bombs hit a civilian train, killing 25 people and wounding even more. It would be easy to stay in the gloom.
But, it is six months of Ukraine holding their own. Six months of proving to the world that they are stronger than anyone else imagined. Six months that the Ukrainian flag still flies defiantly. Russia wanted to take over quickly, in a matter of days. Ukraine did not let that happen, and six months later they are still standing. They are rebuilding already. They will not let Russia win. They will not let their enemy take away their freedom.
And that is worth celebrating.
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