War Stories: Days 5-11, Uneasy Rest in Ternopil


Time moves differently in war. Our 2.5 days in the basement felt like a week. Even though it had only been two days since we had seen Galya and the others, it felt so much longer. We were joyfully reunited the morning of the 28th, relieved they had made it safely out of Kyiv. At the last minute, several people backed out and stayed behind. They were too frightened of the potential dangers and chose to stay in a familiar area. But 2 mothers sent their children with us, as they wanted them safe but had more preparations to do before they left. The 2 vans had a shorter trip than we had since they were never caught at a closed checkpoint overnight. But they saw shooting and heard shelling. Praise God they made it through alright.

Breakfast, together again. (We didn’t know the picture was being taken.)

Dennis and his parents stayed behind. Dennis will continue helping people and try to get more people to evacuate the village. His parents were determined to fight. They told me, “we were born here, and we will die here.”

The next day, a shell landed in the next door neighbor’s yard.

March 1st, 2022.

Meanwhile, our group moved from the church shelter to the YWAM Ternopil base. They had enough space for us and were willing to let us stay a bit longer than the 2-3 day limit. They have a tall, narrow building in the middle of town, but not a lot of bedrooms. Small mattresses were crammed into every corner. The offices, worship room, classrooms, basement, and even some of the larger walk-in closets. Even the small landing at the top of the stairs had room for 2 or 3 people. We were lucky. They put us in one of the small, more private rooms with Max, Dasha, and Sarah. I felt guilty for taking up such nice space compared to the others. But we didn’t ask for it, and we had no say in the matter.

In one room, they set up a clothing drive. People from across the city came and donated clothes. We were able to find a few things that fit us since we weren’t able to bring a lot. Then there was the laundry room, where we were able to finally do laundry after nearly a week wearing the same outfits. The dining room was also open, and they made 3 meals a day for everyone.

Babies cry at night. You could hear them throughout the whole building. When the sirens went off, half the people ran down to the basement. The other half, ourselves included, stay put, only moving when they stay on for extra long. We were tired, and we knew Ternopil was not a target. We stayed alert, but we stayed in our room.

On March 2nd, Galya came down to the dining room in tears.

“They are bombing Puscha.”

I held her while we cried, and prayed that Dennis and the others would be safe. We knew we wouldn’t hear from them if they were in the basement with no service, so we went about our day. A group from the Free Burma Rangers was there to help, and they gave a class on administering medical aid, bandaging different types of wounds, and safely evacuating people out of danger zones. We learned a lot, and prayed we would never have to use it.

Mitch practicing the techniques on Max.

We quickly started a routine. In the mornings, we held bible studies and then a meeting with the whole group. Afterwards, the 6 staff members met and discussed our plans. We still disagreed on the best course of action. The house Galya wanted us to stay at was not going to work. We wanted to find a place to welcome more people and open our own mini refugee center. It was proving difficult. What do we do now? Do we stay in Ternopil? Housing was hard to find. Do we leave Ukraine altogether? Max and Raffi would not be allowed. Do we stay together as a team, or do we split up? The conversation went around and around in circles, day after day.

Our last team picture together.

Finally, we would stop, pray, and move on. We helped around the base as much as we could. Everyone spoke Ukrainian, and Mitch and I were totally lost. We started learning Ukrainian in our bi-weekly language lessons, which we now continued on Skype. I also focused on making YouTube videos trying to fight the disgusting Russian propaganda that had slimed its way into the American media. Sometimes, we would go on walks to try and escape the cabin fever. But we never went far.

One day, the siren went off while Galya and I were at the store. Everyone was ushered into the storage rooms underground, and the doors were locked. While we waited, I entertained Matfey by having him teach me a Ukrainian song he was singing. I was unsuccessful in learning the sounds and words. But he smiled, laughed, and soon it was safe to leave again.

In the evenings, we gathered together as a group once more to play games and fellowship. Sometimes, the base had worship in the dining room or basement, and we occasionally joined them. For the most part, by the end of the day, we were exhausted and went to bed pretty early.

Dennis secured a cargo van and helped more people evacuate. Now that the fighting was more intense, everyone wanted to leave. His mother couldn’t speak for days due to the trauma. Finally we were all together again, including the mothers who had entrusted us with their children.

Yes, they sat on the floor like that for 8+ hours.

The YWAM base was very gracious to let us stay as long as we did, but it was not a permanent solution. After about a week, we would have to leave. We made a final decision. Our group would have to split. All of the families from the youth group boarded buses and left Ukraine for Poland, Germany, and Czechia. Raffi stayed at the base to continue serving. Dasha and Sara found a place to stay in the city while Max went back to Kyiv to help there.

We all said our sad goodbyes, not knowing when or if we would see each other again.

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