War Stories: Day 20-21, From Ukraine to Romania

We are leaving Ukraine today. I have no words. It is very emotional. We left around 8:30am and are now sitting at the border at 12:30, but we have been here for awhile. Maybe since 12. The line is not too bad. We are only a 1/4 mile away now. We are praying they let Dennis through.

After days of deliberation, the decision to leave seemed to come suddenly. We just had to go and try to get Dennis through. We quickly packed what little we had, cleaned the house, and hit the road. I tried not to think about what was going on. We hit some traffic after a few hours but I assumed it was another checkpoint along with gas station lines. When we got closer, I jumped out to use the gas station bathroom. That’s when I realized it wasn’t a normal checkpoint. It was the Ukrainian border.

My heart dropped and I felt sick to my stomach. I hadn’t expected to get here so soon. We only had a few hours left in Ukraine. Who knew when we would return? I swallowed my tears so the kids wouldn’t see me upset and went back to sit in the car.

We slowly inched forwards for hours. Volunteers walked up and down the road, handing out tea and water to the long line of people fleeing the country. They didn’t seem to be Ukrainian. But it was such a Ukrainian thing to do, and it brought us a little comfort. We got food at the gas station and some last Ukrainian snacks, but we ate it in the car so we didn’t get lost. It was nice and sunny out. Eventually, Galya got the kids out, and we walked along the side of the road to stretch our legs. The closer we fit the more people we saw walking. I realized they didnt all have cars. Perhaps they had taken a bus this far, but now they had to cross over by foot. Slowly but surely, we reached the border.

Dennis handed over papers. We gave our passports. The guards talked with Dennis for a long time. But eventually, he was denied. They needed to see 3 children with him, all with birth certificates to prove they were his. The unborn baby and his first son didn’t count.

3:45pm. Dennis will not be able to come. He is going to walk back and hopefully get a bus to Ternopil. We are driving forwards.

Our hearts were shattered. The family said a very emotional goodbye. The kids didn’t understand. They tried to take one last picture but the guards made them delete it. No pictures were allowed within the border for security reasons. And we couldn’t linger. Dennis turned and walked back across the gate into Ukraine. And we drove forward.

Our documents were checked again on the Romanian side. Suddenly, we were driving through, and I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. The floodgates were open. Simultaneous relief and heartbreak. Pain comparable only to the day of my great-grandmother’s funeral. We were truly grieving. It felt like my heart was being physically ripped in half.

It wasn’t fair. We had finally made it to Ukraine. I was finally living out my dream, my calling, since I was 12 years old. And now we were being forced to leave. Words are not enough.

Our first view of Romania was rows and rows of tents and booths set up to recieve people. People were offering clothes, food, and a warm place to sit. Priests, monks, nuns, pastors, and others moved in a flurry of activity. It was as if we had escaped a bubble of frozen time, and my brain caught up.

This was real.

This was real, and people outside Ukraine knew about it, and the world was responding, and it was real. The emotions were overwhelming. None of us were able to hold back our tears.

The rest of the story is short. We didn’t stop at the tents. We kept driving. Eventually, we came to a little town and found a place to eat since it was now dinner time. The only other patrons in the restaurant were also Ukrainian. They came through a smaller border crossing, and they let their husband through even though he only had 2 kids. We ate quietly, emotionally exhausted. I played Red Light/Green Light with Matfey in the small gravel courtyard that served as a parking lot. And then we moved on, every kilometer taking us farther away from Ukraine.

The eastern mountains of Romania reminded us a lot of Montana, and for a moment, I pretended I was back. We were still several hours away from Cluj when we hit a pothole the exact same size as our tire, except for a jagged edge which sliced both tires on the drivers side. Thankfully, we were able to flag down some help. Between our mutual knowledge of English and Russian we were able to communicate. After we replaced one of the tires with the spare, they led us to the next village and a beautiful bed and breakfast run by a woman of Ukrainian descent. It was especially comforting for Galya to be able to speak in her native language on our first night in this new land. She fed us well in true Ukrainian style. The woman’s husband drove Mitch several hours to the nearest city the next day to pick up some new tires, which, miraculously, they had in the size we needed. By that evening, we finally arrived in Cluj.

The YWAM staff graciously welcomed us into their Guest House, a hostel with several bedrooms and a shared kitchen and dining area. It was well stocked with food and they made themselves available if we needed anything. Ironically, the Guest House was being overseen by our now friends Jessica and Kwame, who we had seen in our last days at the Ternopil base, but hadn’t had a chance to meet. Everyone made us feel so at home, and the work they were doing for the Ukrainians made us instantly at peace about joining their staff. And so, our time in Ukraine was over, and our 9 months in Romania began.

Thank you for reading our story and sticking with me until the end. Please feel free to share this story, as it needs to be told. If you have any questions or concerns regarding the war, Russia, propaganda, conspiracies, or what’s really going on, feel free to ask us at mitchandemlong@protonmail.com. we also have a list of reliable news sources (scroll down). To support our continued ministry, although it looks a little different now, please visit our donation page for all the info.

War Stories: Days 12-19, Bittersweet days in Kolomyya.

By the end, it was just the 2 of us and Galya’s family. Everyone else had made their decision and moved on. And now what? We no longer had a ministry or a plan. On March 7th, we moved to an empty house that belonged to a friend of a friend of a friend in the quiet village of Kolomyya, near the western border. We would rest and regroup there. Maybe we could stay for longer.

But upon arriving we realized it wasn’t quite as quiet as we thought. There was more military activity as soldiers trained and prepared before being sent to Kyiv and the east. And there was an airport in the region; Aka a target. Planes flew overhead frequently. Big, noisy trucks rumbled down the road. The sirens still sounded, waking us up in the early morning or late at night. We still could not rest fully. The children were unsettled. Galya was pregnant. She wanted to leave Ukraine altogether, but we didn’t know if Dennis would also be allowed to come. Supposedly, men were able to leave if they had 3 children. Would the baby count? What about his other son? He wasn’t with us, did that matter? We tried to find out this information, but it was not well known or agreed upon.

Best cheeseburger I’ve ever eaten in my life.
A cool way to store and serve seasonings.

I was still struggling with my sinus infection. Although I felt better, I kept coughing, and my throat was really dry. I rested as much as possible. But after 2 days, I realized something else still felt off. So, I finally asked Vladimir to go find a test.

I was in total shock when I saw those 2 strong pink lines. We couldn’t believe it. There were so many mixed emotions that I can’t even begin to describe. We were excited but I was also terrified. We definitely had to leave Ukraine now. With all the stress I had been under, I was scared I would miscarry.

Spoiler alert: she is fine, happy, and healthy. Our little miracle baby.

We spent the week resting and recovering. I filmed a few other videos, we went on a walk around the village, and we went to eat at a restaurant, which felt surreal. Finally, we came up with a plan. A few friends from the YWAM base in Kyiv had gone to the base in Cluj, Romania. They had space for us and encouraged us to come. Maybe we could continue helping Ukrainians from there. People asked if we would come home.

Why? We wanted to help people. We came to serve the people of Ukraine. It didn’t matter where that was. We just knew God had brought us there for a reason, and He wasn’t done yet.

Today is Saturday. On Tuesday (7th) we came to Kolomyya to stay in a friend of a friend’s house. Its just us and Galina’s family now. We are taking a few days to rest but will try to go to Romania to work with the YWAM base in Cluj. Dennis is trying to figure out if he can cross the border since Galina is pregnant.

I found out I’m pregnant too. 2 days ago. March 10th. I am very excited but still trying to process.

I woke up coughing tonight. There are air raid sirens even in this tiny village. No where in Ukraine is safe. Mitch says there is an airport not too far away that Russia is trying to destroy. The Ukrainians are launching most of their air force from there. We can’t hear any bombing or planes, so most likely they won’t hit the village and the sirens are just an extra precaution. It makes me very nervous. It has been several days since I heard a siren. I am trying to stay calm. But I hate it. For the first time in my life, I am looking forward to leaving Ukraine. I can’t wait. Even though I am heartbroken and did not want to leave this early. After tonight, it is clearly for the best.

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.

War Stories: Day 4, The Long Drive Out

From this point on, my journal entries became pretty sparse. I have some key dates and timeline events, but not much else. I was struggling with a sinus infection from the mold and damp of the basement plus early and unknown pregnancy symptoms. Not to mention the stress from the war, which compounded everything and left me feeling pretty terrible for about a solid week. Once we got to Ternopil, we also had better cell service, so I was more focused on making videos and interacting online vs hiding in a basement with no way to record or post for hours on end. So, since I didn’t write as much then, I’ll be writing down memories that have stuck with me even a year later and going into more detail than I did in the journal.

Photo cred: Lindsey Addario for the New York Times.
Hard to read but those paper signs on the car said the same thing. Photo cred: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/ukrainian-crowds-send-russian-enemy-into-retreat-m05sfn0mp

These types of pictures were widespread last year. ДЕТИ (Russian) and ДЕТІ (Ukrainian) mean children. You may have forgotten about them. I haven’t. This wasn’t a unique experience. They. Were. Everywhere. On paper. Painted onto the windows. A plea for mercy, to preserve their innocence, to save them. It wouldn’t make a difference.

The handwritten form of дети. A car destroyed as it tried to flee Bucha, near where we lived. Photo cred: Scott Peterson/ Getty Images

While some things seemed bleak and horrifying, others were inspiring. All throughout Kyiv, soldiers, the territorial defense, but mostly civilians had rallied and were preparing a giant battlefield. At every corner and intersection, men had piled sandbags and were digging trenches. They were not going down without a fight. Checkpoints were frequent within the city, growing further apart the more west we drove. Our American passports were heavily scrutinized, usually earning 2 or 3 second opinions before they were confirmed to be legitimate. Then, the suspicion was usually replaced with a friendly smile.

“Wow! I have never seen an American passport before. Thank you for coming.”

We were quiet for the most part; no music, very little talking. Dasha and i did our best to entertain Sara. We were constantly scanning the skies. At least once, I remember seeing a low flying helicopter. Thankfully, Mitch knew enough about military vehicles that he was able to tell what things were and who they belonged to. We stopped at several gas stations along the way, trying to find fuel. Most were empty, and those that did only allowed a little bit at a time. Even if there was no fuel, there were still long lines as people tried to find food or use the bathrooms. The shelves were barren by the time we rolled through on Day 3. Only the worst or more expensive was left. We found some chocolate cake and saved that for breakfast on Day 4.

These people are not waiting for the light. They are trying to get gas, and the line most likely stretches for a mile behind them. You saw the lines before the actual station.

It is usually a 7 hour drive from Kyiv to Ternopil. But there were so many checkpoints and so much traffic. Then they closed one of the checkpoints for the night, and we were stuck on the highway for around 6 hours at least. It was cold, but we couldn’t run the car the whole time because we didn’t know when we could more fuel. There were no bathrooms, so when we really reached the point where we couldn’t hold it, we had to walk off the highway into the trees.

Up until this point, we had been pretty consistent about posting and responding to messages from people to let everyone know we were still ok. But when we traveled we had to go dark for a bit for our own safety. I think we just let some immediate family members know. We were flooded with so many messages during this long drive that eventually we did send a few sparse updates. It was amazing to see how many people checked in on us, some we hadn’t even heard from in years.

Finally, 21 hours after we left Kyiv, we arrived at a refugee shelter in Ternopil. They fed us a warm meal, gave us a quick tour, explained the rules (no photos or videos, lights out at 7 or 8), and then we all took hot showers and collapsed into bed for the first good rest we had had since everything had started. Mitch and Max were running on only a few hours of sleep. It was so hard to force ourselves awake a few hours later, but we knew we had to if we were going to sleep through the night. We heard from Galya that day. The YWAM base at Kyiv were finally able to make it to them and would send vans in the morning. We were so glad, but we still worried for them and prayed we would make it until then.

While we waited, we went for a walk to find some food and much needed medicines. It felt strange to see a different city. People were still living their normal lives, albeit a little quieter. Kyiv seemed like a distant nightmare. War didn’t feel real. Until the sirens went off, you could almost imagine it didn’t happen. We couldn’t hear the sirens in Gorenka, in the basement. This was the first time since the morning of the 24th we had heard them. It was eerie. We checked the alert apps. Missiles were being launched from Belarus or the submarines off the coast. They didn’t know where they were headed, so sirens went off across the whole country. The city went dark if this happened at night, only cars’ headlights visible as people tried to drive home. We had to explain to the youth group why this was so important. They didn’t understand at first.

Like everyone else in the shelter, we ate dinner quietly, still in a state of shock, then went to bed.

Finally made it to Ternopil around 10am. 20-21 hours driving total. A very well organized shelter. We were fed some food and then took hot showers, most of us took a nap afterwards. I did not want to wake up from my nap but I knew I had to. Thankfully Galya said they already have transport. They will start traveling tomorrow as soon as curfew ends. We will prepare for them here.

War Journal: Day 3, Leaving Kyiv


Day 3. Nobody can agree what to do. What is safest. What is best for all. We cannot get ahold of one man who has a big bus and said he would take us. We do not know if he still alive, still in the country, or had to leave his phone behind. Our other 2 options now cannot get to us because the bridges have been blown out. I want to leave. I feel trapped here. Others are more afraid of the unknowns of the road. Vova from the school connected me to a teacher group chat. They are helping us look for a bus. 

2pm. The moms of the youth group told us to go to Ternopil and find a bus from there. People argued in Russian for an hour. (It was quiet, no shelling and a sunny, fairly warm day so we all went and stood in the yard as we talked. I played with the kids or just sat on the steps and listened. I couldn’t understand most of it, and only parts were translated for us.) Finally Max, Dasha, Sara, Vladimir and I got in their car and left. Galya was too scared to leave with the kids. We were too scared to stay. I am torn because I wanted to stay with Galya so I could help her with the kids but we needed to fill all the seats in the car so it would be worth it.

We let Sara out of the car seat when we were stopped for hours in snails pace traffic overnight. We were all exhausted as you can see.

Driving through Kyiv was the worst part. We could still hear occasional shelling as we left Pusha. It seems very bad there right now. We had to show our passports at multiple checkpoints throughout the city. At every major intersection we saw volunteers, police, and soldiers digging trenches and fortifying them with sandbags. At one point we drove right past where one of the first residential buildings that got bombed was located. There was debris all across the road, only one lane was open in both directions. I didn’t get a chance to look at the building that closely because a police car pulled out in front of us and pointed their rifle at the car just in front in the right hand lane. Max quickly drove us around the scene. We did not stop for 3 hours. We also learned as we were leaving that the mayor was putting a strict curfew on Kyiv from 5pm that night (Saturday) until Monday morning. We were able to get far away in time and are very glad we left when we did instead of waiting.

Photo comparison showing the completed repairs.

Most of the drive was ok. We found some food and some gas at 2 different locations. At 1am we ran into traffic outside of Khmelnytskyi. Probably about 4km outside of the big highway that goes around it. Traffic is moving at a snail’s pace. People are driving the wrong way and racing ahead of everyone to get around it. It is now 8am on Sunday morning and we still have not turned onto the highway. This is not good. There are several gas stations on the corner so that is slowing stuff down. And it might be a checkpoint as well.

War Journal: Day 2, Losing Power


7am. We slept in the basement last night. It was cold. We didn’t sleep very well. Every time there was bombing we woke up and listened. I got up at 11 and then again at 3, then 4. There was supposedly an air raid at 3am across all Kyiv. It was very nerve-wracking. Sara (13months?) kept waking up at the explosions and crying for mama, even though Dasha was right there. But we made it through the night. Supposedly Ukraine took back control of the airport but the Russians are still fighting them. More Russian troops are coming from north of Kyiv on foot and in tanks. Ukraine is fighting them and slowing them down but has not been able to stop them yet. Now we are planning to drive to Ternopil as soon as it is clear. It makes me nervous to stay and makes me nervous to leave. Some of us are staying in the basement despite the cold (2C/35.6F). Others are upstairs where it is warm and run down when they hear something. I feel sick to my stomach every time I hear something.

Making lunch for the kids. (Yes I was pregnant but definitely not enough to start showing yet, that’s just from wearing multiple layers to stay warm.)

9:20am. We must stay here for now. Foot soldiers are nearby. The little kids keep asking to go home. They do not understand what is happening. Matfey keeps trying to escape and play outside. I have had to physically block him and at other times carry him back inside.

“Mama, I want to go to another house.”

“Why, son?”

“Everything is shaking here.”

(From Galya’s story of events, a conversation with Matfey.)

(I wonder how long it will stay this way. How long are we trapped here for? Will we be able to leave? Will we have to try and get out on foot? Will we have to live in the woods as some sort of resistance group? Galya is 4 or 5 months pregnant. Will this last until the baby’s born? Will we have access to a hospital, or a doctor? I ask my sister in law to send me resources on midwifery, just in case. How long will our cell service and internet last? I download it, even though we are months away from the birth. This feels like a movie, yet at the same time far more boring and far more terrifying. If we get out of here, I will never be able to watch certain films the same way again. I keep thinking of the Chronicles of Narnia, and I understand now.)

Volume is very quiet, headphones work best.

1:30pm. So tired. Between the stress and changing weather I feel like I have a cold. I’m pretty sure I don’t. But I napped for almost an hour this morning and am about to take another. We all are, once we finish lunch. We need to save our strength. 

It is strange. We can tell how close the fighting is now. We’ve gotten used to the different levels of sound. We don’t run straight to the basement when we hear something. Only 3 days ago I kept jumping when a neighbor closed the door too loudly, or dropped something in the apartment above us, thinking the fighting had started. I know the difference now.

5pm. It has been quieter today. A few shells/howitzers but mostly all we could hear was periodic gunfire. It’s weird how we consider that a good day. Power has come and gone. We would have left but we could not find a bus. We are trying to move to the school’s bomb shelter which has electricity, heating, and is dry. Some of the teen girls argued and did not want to go. They don’t think it is much better than the house. Galina convinced them to go. Mitch and I are here with a few others waiting for the second trip.

The school was full, and could only accept some of the kids. They took the others home to be with their families. Our team stays here to prepare to leave tomorrow if we can find a bus.

10pm. We slept for about 2 hours upstairs before the fighting started again. We are now in the basement. The Ukrainian army is firing against the Russians. The Russians are far from us but the Ukrainians are closer so it is loud.

War Journal: Day 1, Laying Low

It has been exactly one year since the war in Ukraine escalated from mild skirmishes on the eastern front to a full out invasion of the whole country. At the time, I knew how important it would be to keep a journal of events, whether that was so I could remember and process it later, share the truth of what happened, or record our final days if something happened to us. I didn’t know this until later, but I was also 2 weeks pregnant. As we move through these difficult milestones, I will be sharing what I wrote. Any notes I have added later will be in parenthesis and italics, but for the most part this is the raw, unedited version.


Day 1 of the Russian invasion. We woke up this morning at 6am hearing explosions and car alarms. The news said it had already been going on for an hour. It was not constant. Just a few, every so often. But it was clear. We quickly packed our bag with some extra clothes, our icons, computer, and some food essentials. We called [some family and trusted friends] and let them know what was going on.

(As we packed, a tiny question entered my mind. Do you regret coming? There was absolutely no hesitation in my silent answer. The most peaceful yet resounding NO that filled my entire being. The future was uncertain. I could hear the city being bombed. And yet, even in that moment, hands shaking, I knew I would do it all again in a heartbeat.)

Dennis came and brought us to their house which was further west and in a small village. We said hi. It seemed so mundane and simple. But what else do you do at war? (Some people kept going to work, others stood and listened in stunned silence around us. We were moving so fast but it seemed like the rest of the world had stopped. “Emily, don’t worry,” Dennis told me. “It is not that serious, he is just showing his power, it will be over soon.”) As the morning developed we saw Russia was bombing all military bases in Ukraine. They hit almost every major city except Ternopil. Even Lviv was hit. Nowhere is safe. As of now the damages have been described as minimal and the Ukrainian army said they are still functional. Who knows the truth.

The eventual map of all the missile attacks on February 24th.

Galya invited the kids to her house. Their reactions are heartbreaking. Some are terrified. Others say they will fight with machine guns. Others haven’t grasped the seriousness of the situation. For others it is normal. Around 10am about 5 of them arrived and I started making crepes. (I felt so helpless. I didn’t know the language, the terrain, or what I could do to help. Then I realized none of us had eaten. I knew how to cook. It helped me stay busy and feel like I was in control.) Mitch, Dennis, and Garrick went out to the store to get food for the kids. Max, Dasha, and 2 of their friends/family arrived at 12:30. They had to go first to the YWAM base and then fight traffic to get here. We are laying low. We eat, we talk, and the kids play. We read the news and try to decide the best course of action.

It is strange. Moments of peace and then moments of panic. Every time a plane flies overhead, every time we hear a low rumble in the distance. Even the noises from the kids games or drums in the music. We are all jumpy.

Taking advantage of the quiet to spend time upstairs where it was warmer and more comfortable.

It is surreal. 1:40pm. We have moved to Dennis’ parents house. (They lived in a duplex style home together.) They have closer access to the basement. We have heard planes flying over head and even saw 2. Apparently there may be a battle nearby. We are prepared to run into the basement. The basement is flooding since it’s spring. (I later learned a pipe had burst.) Dennis’s father is trying to shovel the water away. His mother makes us tea. As Ukrainians do. Mitch, Dennis, and Garrick are stuck in traffic. They went looking for more supplies. Everyone is trying to leave. But to go where? Nowhere is safe.

According to LiveUA Map, Russian soldiers have seized the airport near us. This is terrifying. We have to get the kids out. But how? We don’t have a vehicle we can transport. Russians might set off more bombs in the area, in Puscha, now that they have control. Ukraine will try to push them back. We thought Puscha would be safer. We underestimated how quickly they would come. They launched missiles from Russia, from their submarines, people are saying. They got here so fast. I am praying that we can find a van and take people to Ternopil. Galya says she knows a big house there that has room for everyone. If we can get there in time.

Mriya (The Dream): the largest cargo plane in the world, destroyed at Hostomel Airport only a few miles away from us.

2:20pm. More people have arrived. Dennis and Mitch returned. Moments later we heard loud bangs. So we all fled to the basement. The floor is wet. And half is still covered in an inch of water. Nobody cares. There is no service down here so we can’t check the news and see what’s going on. The young kids are very scared, fighting back tears. Matfey (Galya and Dennis’s son, age 3.) keeps asking why. He wants to help. So innocent. You can see the despair in everyone’s eyes. Every time they start speaking in Russian I feel lost. Sometimes they forget to translate and I must ask.

Dennis carrying their young daughter Zoya out of the basement.
Matfey and some of the other kids making their way across the paving stones so our feet didn’t get wet.

3pm. Back in the house finally. Hopefully we won’t have to go back down soon. We need to make food for everyone. The guys are moving the wood and building materials out of the basement to make more room and have a place for everyone to sit. 

4pm. Everyone has been fed sandwiches. Galya passed out candy. The support from everyone online has been astounding. (Both people decrying the war on Facebook and standing with Ukraine, and the donations that started coming into our account before we had barely asked. Both brought us so much hope.) We went back to the basement again. It’s set up a lot nicer now. We can sit on panels of wood with blankets over them. And Dennis brought a heater so it’s not as cold. We are not sure if anything is happening or not. It seems relatively quiet but we are playing it safe.

You can hear an explosion at the 11 second mark.

We have been back and forth multiple times. Ironically the 3 youngest boys have toy guns and are playing with them to keep them calm. Kids in the youth group who are home with their families are reporting seeing tanks rolling through towards government buildings. That seems to be the main focus of the attack right now.

7:30pm. The hours have flown by so quickly and yet the day has felt forever. I am so tired. Right now there is a major battle at the airport, Ukraine is trying to take it back. It is only about 5 miles away (as the bird flies). We must get to Ternopil. But it is not safe to move either. How can this be happening? How can this be real?

Remembering Our Month in Ukraine

This time last year, we were so busy I didn’t get to write a lot about our time in Ukraine. It only lasted for one month, and we were living in the moment and soaking it up as much as we could.

Let me back up even further. In October of 2021, we had decided to go back to Ukraine for at least a short trip, scouting out possible ministries where we could get involved and find a place to live. We knew we wanted to move over there permanently, sooner rather than later. After talking to our friends Dennis and Galya, whom Vladimir had worked with last time, we decided to go all in. This was not going to be a short trip. We were going with the intent to stay. It was, to be honest, a little scary. We sold everything we could and gave away plenty more. It felt like we were missionaries of old, leaving everything behind to start a new life. By December, the news (particularly American media) had started talking about a potential escalation. Russia was conducting war games with Belarus, close to the Ukrainian border. But for us and Ukrainians, this was old news. It had been happening on and off since 2014, when Russia had taken over Crimea. It was a common scare tactic meant to get a feel for how the world would react. We spoke to many of our Ukrainian friends, kept an eye out on our trusted, reliable new sources, and continued our preparations to leave. Many thought us foolish. But God made it clear to us that we were still supposed to go. So, on January 25th, after a complicated few travel days that included cancelled flights and a combined $1,000 in covid tests (4 each in 48 hours) we finally landed in our beloved Ukraine once again.

Galya found us an apartment only days before. We went and signed the lease with the landlady. We learned how to pay the rent, and went shopping at Epicenter to get what we needed to live. We loved that old apartment, even though it was a little rough in places and needed some TLC. It was home. We were home.

Our apartment tour.

Vladimir introduced me to the youth group ministry Galya had started. Most of the kids were from the Eastern districts that had been affected by the war. They had fled with their families in 2014, refugees in their own country (Aka displaced persons). Many had lost their fathers to the violence of the conflict. Once we joined, there were 7 adults leading the youth group: Galya, who had started the project in 2014 and her husband Dennis; Max and his wife Dasha, who we had met during our DTS in 2017; and our friend Raffi, who had grown up in the youth group and now was leading it as a young adult; and the 2 of us. We met once a week with the main group, once a week for an evening Bible study, and once a week we would accompany some of the older ones to the main city to visit another church’s youth group. Every week for our main gathering, the leaders would make little sandwhiches and bring cookies for the kids to eat before the lesson. At our first meeting, we talked a little bit about our journey to Ukraine. They scarfed them down hungrily and asked how we knew God had told us to come to Ukraine. Like most Ukrainians we met, they were filled with both disbelief that we loved their country and still come despite the danger, and hope that not all was lost, and people outside were still supporting them. Just us being there, even if we weren’t doing a lot, meant so much to them.

On the tram ride home, we both had the same ideas. We wanted to bring them a hot meal, and teach about prayer since they had asked. Each of us had our own idea about a lesson that we wanted to teach. We went back to the store to get some big pots to make soup. We started a list of things we wanted to make, and started preparing our lessons.

We met up with a friend of a friend through the Orthodox church who just so happened to be in Ukraine at the same time as us. We became quick friends with Misha as he showed us around several of the churches in Kyiv and introduced us to some local people he knew. We would have lunch together after the services and talk at length about Ukraine and Orthodoxy. It was amazing to be able to attend these ancient churches and see the history and rich traditions that still existed. We were welcomed immediately, and started getting connected to the church. Again, it felt like coming home.

I wish we had taken a picture with Misha. This is the inside of St. Iona (Jonah) monastery.

Emily made contact with a local ministry that helped orphans and kids with special needs. We got a tour of one of their facilities, met some of the staff, and made plans to start visiting and helping more often in the coming weeks.

Thanks to the ex-pat Facebook page, we found a good Russian/Ukrainian teacher and started attending lessons right away, on only our 2nd week there. We decided to continue learning Russian since that’s what the kids primarily spoke. Yulia taught us so much in a short amount of time. She really helped us unlock the key to the language. Our skills came back and we started diving deeper. We were barely conversational, but we could generally get the point across. We started making friends with the baristas at the little coffee stand outside our apartment, and the waiters at Cafe Lito, both of which we frequented often. We were slowly becoming part of the community.

Working on homework for our language lessons.

Three weeks in, Emily got an incredible job opportunity teaching science in English for private schools. It was a subject she loved to teach, part time so we could still do our evening ministries, and would pay all of our basic bills so that most of our financial support, gifts, and fundraising could go directly into ministry. The position was open because the teacher had left the country, fearing war.

“How long are you planning to stay in Ukraine?” the interviewers asked.

“Until the bombs start falling from the sky.”

We laughed nervously, knowing the possibility was true but not fully believing it. We all lived in a strange dichotomy, believing in the best while preparing for the worst. The two of us wanted to make the most of our time in Ukraine, knowing it could be the last time in awhile, and that it would be different if something happened and we had to leave and then come back. We tried to visit all of our favorite places in Kyiv and eat all of our favorite foods. We started making plans to travel to Vinnitsa, where we first met. We wanted to go soon, but we also couldn’t blow through all of our hard-earned savings at once. The unexpected extra travel expenses had hit our savings hard, and we were starting to run out of funds faster than we had planned. We at least needed to wait until Emily started getting paid for her job.

Thankfully we got to meet up with Sasha when she came to Kyiv!

At youth group, we started talking to the kids more frankly about the war. We told them to ask their parents if they had a plan. If they didn’t have transportation they should let us know. Galya had a basement we could stay in if necessary; we could meet at her house. Vladimir taught his lesson on… Emily spoke about how our identity in Christ follows us everywhere we go, and that Jesus was also a refugee in Egypt. For the first time, we split the youth group into 2 age groups now that we had enough leaders. Things were going really well.

Everything had been normal up until that point. At times we even forgot what the news was saying, because the Ukrainian news wasn’t doing the same thing American media was. Zelensky publicly told our government if they knew something was going to happen, they actually had to share it. But that last week, when Emily started working, things started changing. Reports started getting more serious, and it wasn’t necessarily the normal procedures anymore. The U.S. finally shared information with Zelensky and the Ukrainian government. The threat remained in the back of our minds at all time. Every plane that went overhead warranted a quick look around, even if it was just to make sure nobody else was panicking. Every loud sound gave us pause; we were always alert to our surroundings.

Getting water from the local well.

On February 21st, 2022, exactly one year ago today, Russia declared that the Ukrainian oblasts Donetsk and Luhansk were independent republics, separate from Ukraine. This, according to Putin’s twisted mind, meant that Ukraine was “invading” the regions, and therefore Russia could come to their “aid” and attack Ukraine. That was the true turning point.

Escalation of war was no longer a theoretical matter. Now, it was only a matter of time.

Looking Forward to 2023

The long overdue update!! So as you know by now, we are back in the states after 11 months of ministry overseas. We came back for a couple of reasons: family health issues, a new baby, and in need of spiritual reconnection/renewal after a tough and challenging year.

Meeting some great grandparents for the first time.

Our original plan was to come back in February for a few months to visit family and fundraise. We were about to announce this in late November when we learned that Vladimir’s grandfather’s health had taken a rapid turn for the worse. We both felt strongly that we should return home sooner rather than later, and plans to leave in 2 months turned into 2 weeks. We got to see those grandparents in Portland, Oregon (ok technically it’s Vancouver, Washington but they’re close enough it’s basically the same thing) and got to stay for Christmas. It was a good visit and he was able o recognize us. (As I write this post, he has now been moved to hospice care and is rapidly approaching the end. We are so glad we pushed to come back now instead of waiting another month.) Then we made it to Montana in time for Anastasia’s baptism, and joyfully reunited with our church. It was a much needed and celebrated return. We had barely recovered from that when Vladimir learned that he had a short job working on a roof in Atlanta, Georgia. Since they were driving through Nashville on the way, we started trying to figure out how me and the baby could go down as well to see my family. Again, we did not anticipate being able to get to Nashville so soon, but suddenly there was an opportunity, so of course I took it! Even better, as I was looking at flights to at least fly one way, we realized we had enough airline miles to fly round trip! God is so good!! The timing for all of this worked out perfectly, even if it has been an absolute whirlwind!

At Anastasia’s baptism with her godmother (far right).
Anastasia with another set of great-grandparents.
Grammy meeting her first grandbaby!

But what comes next for us? How long are we staying? Where are we staying? What are we doing for ministry now, and when/will we be going back? The answer(s) are a bit long winded, but stick with us. Our “Plans,” as we learned last year, don’t always match up with what God has for us. So we think of them more as general ideas and possibilities, and we pray God will show us specifics as we come to them. We neither want nor plan to leave the mission field, but our time in Romania seemed to be drawing towards a close. And yet Ukraine still is not safe to return as we would like.

It is a hard place to be, in limbo and not knowing exactly what is to come. But we walk in faith, and God has shown up every time.

First of all, we will be living in Thompson Falls, Montana. Our friends James and Shannon (who run Business for Orphans and came to visit us in Romania a few times) own a large summer type camp property with lots of cabins. They are currently in the process of pioneering a new YWAM base there, aiming to start a DTS in March and using their base as a training facility with a heavy focus on sending and supporting missionaries in both the short and long term. We are very excited about what God is doing through them, and are planning to help at least in the beginning as they get things rolling. James and Shannon are great people with a huge heart for missions, especially Ukraine right now. This, we feel, is one of the ways we can still be involved in missions and Ukraine from the States during this short transitional time.

The first time Shannon came to visit us in Romania!
Recent snowfall at their property.

Secondly, we are planning to organize a few teams to take to Ukraine for short trips this summer, building houses with YWAM Cluj and Kyiv. This past year they managed to build 100 tiny homes for people, mostly elderly living in the most destroyed villages around Kyiv. These temporary shelters are literally saving lives as they struggle to rebuild their permanent homes. And more are being planned for the summer! We don’t have a lot of information on taking teams yet; this project is still very much in its infancy. But if you are interested in this at any level, PLEASE let us know!

So this is how we will stay involved in missions. Thirdly, we will be working while in the States. As I’m sure you’re all aware, life is expensive here. We don’t have enough support to stay and not work at all. So we will be working to supplement our support and save up some resources for when we return. Ultimately, our long term goal is to buy land and a house in Ukraine (approximately $10-15k) where we can move and live full time. We really want to help rebuild when it is safe for us to return. Between Vladimir’s construction experience and my experience working with kids, we feel God will use our skills to truly help the country recover. It’s just a matter of when.

Speaking of, I am still interested in pursuing a master’s degree in developmental trauma. But the program I looked at still does not have an online option. Last I talked to them it is still being developed and they weren’t able to get that up and running just yet. So I am searching to see if there are other options. Until then I will be following the resources for parents, and continue listening to their podcasts, reading books, and watching the videos on my own.

So this is what we hope 2023 will hold for us. While there are not a lot of definites right now, there are a lot of exciting options and possibilities we will be pursuing. And we trust God will reveal further steps for us to take. Although he seems to have a pattern of showing us “last minute,” at least in our human time-line. Thank you to everyone who has continued to support us through this transitional phase. We look forward to continuing ministry with you!

All the siblings together again!

For Such a Time As This: 2022

It’s hard to believe the year is nearly over. In some ways it has been one of the longest years ever, and in others it has flown by. If you had told us in January that we would spend the majority of the year living and serving in Romania, and that we would have a baby by the end of it all, I don’t think we would have believed you.

We started off the year with our baptism into the Orthodox church. January was full of excitement, stress, and a little bit of fear to be honest. We had been planning to go to Ukraine since October, and decided we should still go even as news of a possible invasion ramped up. The rumors were the same thing the news always talked about at every election cycle. When we talked to friends in Ukraine, they said it was basically the same thing that had been going on for 8 years. Nothing had changed for them. So we decided to go anyway. God made it extremely clear that we were supposed to go, right up to the day we left. We arrived in Kyiv on January 25th, where we joyfully reunited with our friends Galya and Dennis. Their youth group for kids who had fled Russia-occupied regions of Donetsk, Donbass, and Luhansk was our main ministry we would be helping with. We jumped into ministry straight away.

Teaching in the youth group.
Hanging out with Sasha in Kyiv.

February was amazing, and we fell into a good routine. We helped out with youth group twice a week, started language lessons twice a week, met with old friends and started making new ones. It was wonderful to be back in Ukraine again after so long. We loved our little soviet style apartment in the village of Puscha-Voditsa, just outside of Kyiv. We loved visiting old Orthodox churches every Sunday. We loved walking around the city we both love so dearly. And it felt safe. Most of the time we were there, everything was calm and normal. We were hopeful the American news were over-exaggerating the perceived threat, made worse by lack of research and understanding of the culture. It wasn’t until 2 days before that everything changed, and we knew an attack was imminent.

We woke up on February 24th to the sound of bombs. The shock waves set off car alarms for miles. It was still dark outside. We called family and let them know. Both of us decided emphatically that if something happened to us, the month we spent in Ukraine had been totally worth it. It had been the best month of our lives. Neither of us regret going, not then and definitely not now. Dennis came to pick us up and we met with several kids from the youth group at their house. Emily made them pancakes for breakfast since it was still early. The basement was flooded, with about an inch of water covering everything. We set up stepping stones and wooden pallets to sit and sleep on. We learned the difference in sounds between the Russian bombs landing nearby and the Ukrainian missiles flying away from us in defense. We stayed upstairs in the heat when we could, going down to the basement only at night or when the attacks ramped up. Those 2-3 days were some of the scariest in our lives. But finally we managed to get transport out of the city, literally running for our lives.

Some people had to escape in cargo vans, traveling like this for 7+ hours. All together our team helped around 30 people get out of the village.
Saying goodbye to the kids from youth group as we went our separate ways.

March was full of air raid sirens, blackouts, crowded shelters with crying children, and many long discussions with our team about what to do next. Our village back in Ukraine was overrun with Russian soldiers. We started to hear rumors of the terrible torture coming from Bucha and Irpin, the villages just north and west from Puscha. In the middle of the darkness, chaos, and death, we found out we were pregnant! A complete miracle, especially given the stressful environment of the past few weeks. Galya and Dennis decided to go to Romania, where we had some friends from YWAM Kyiv. But we weren’t sure if Dennis would be allowed to cross the border, and unfortunately our suspicions were correct. We ended up driving Galya (also pregnant) and her 2 young children to Cluj, Romania, where we were welcomed with open arms by the YWAM base. As we rested and met people, we felt God telling us to stay.

In Romania, shortly after we found out we were expecting.
Crowded lunches in the small church. Vladimir can be seen in the bottom left corner.
The village cafe burned down in the occupation of the Pusha/Gorenka area.

In April we started working as YWAM Cluj official staff. Emily only worked part time as morning sickness started hitting full force. But she was able to help get the kids program started once a week, and taught a lesson on the armor of God, particularly the Shield of Faith. Vladimir and the construction team started working hard to finish the apartments for the many volunteers scheduled to come and help that summer. Both of us enjoyed having lunch (well, Emily was forced to stop after awhile since the smell of any meat was sickening) and using our language skills to make some new Ukrainian friends. We also sent a large amount of donations we were given to fund the first truck of food and supplies the base sent to Ukraine.

One of the families who stayed briefly with YWAM on their way to Bulgaria. The lady next to Emily, Sveta, was deaf and spoke Russian Sign Language.
Easter egg hunt for the kids, first time seeing them smile this big since they had arrived!
Loading supplies for the truck.

By May, the apartments were finished and more teams of volunteers were arriving from all over the world. Work began on the new community center, which would have a commercial grade kitchen and more dining space than the church we were renting from could offer. Emily was basically out of commission for the month, so sick she could hardly get out of bed most days. June was pretty much the same. Galya had her baby, and Emily went to help watch her oldest son once or twice a week to give her a little help. Meanwhile, we found out we were having a little girl, and we couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Emily learning how to make Ukrainian vereniki from Galya’s mother and our friend Amy.

Once the construction was finished, Vladimir joined the cooking team and helped make the daily lunches for our Ukrainian friends. Emily finally started feeling better in July, and started helping with English club and occasionally the kids ministry. She was able to keep it up through August and September, while Vladimir took a roofing job back in the States so we could have the funds to stay through the end of the year. The timing of the job was absolutely perfect, right when we needed it and right as Emily was able to be ok on her own without as much support. Even though it was hard for him to be gone for a few weeks (both personally and in terms of ministry), we managed. Once again, a common theme of this year, we were reminded that God always provides!

By October the 3rd trimester officially took Emily out again, but she did managed to organize one last event for the kids ministry. Our special length program about managing anxiety was a huge success. The kids had fun with the games, craft, and movie, and genuinely seemed to listen and connect with the Bible story (Peter walking on water) and the conversation about managing anxiety and calming down if you start to panic. It was a good finale to my year of ministry. As frustrating as it was at times to be too sick to function or help, I am confident and at peace that God brought me here to do exactly what I was able to accomplish. And for that I am grateful. The rest of the month was filled with prepping for the baby (Emily) and lots of cooking in the kitchen (Vladimir, both for the Ukrainians at work and for Emily at home).

Vladimir also helped build a house for a local Romanian family in a nearby village.
Making a sensory tube to help calm anxiety.
And watching Luca!

And then there was November. In the beginning, we thought February would be the best month of the year, despite the start of the war. Its a close second, but nothing beats the month we got to meet our daughter. Sweet Anastasia Olympia arrived on her due date, November 14th. She is like a puzzle piece we didn’t know was missing, but now that she is here we feel more whole. Somehow she is already 6 weeks old, and doing great. She is noisy and wiggly and likes to move and look around at the world. She makes the funniest faces, and definitely has a bit of spark to her. She still struggles to sleep through the night, but it’s getting better. We are surviving, and she makes it worth it. We love her more than anything, and we love watching each other become parents.

All dressed up for the baby shower.

And that brings us to December. Although most of the time has been spent getting ready to leave, we are also fundraising for one last project to help Ukraine: bringing vitamins and generators to hard hit areas.

Christmas dinner.
Saying goodbye to our many Ukrainian friends. There are too many pictures to put them all here. We miss them all dearly.
One of our last pictures from Romania, in the same alley as the first. It was too cold to get the baby out for a picture so we left her in the pram.

It was not in our plans to return to the States so soon. But with multiple family health issues on both sides of our family, we decided it would be best. Our time in Romania has been unexpected, challenging, frustrating, amazing, and rewarding. 2022 has been a year full of tears, laughter, fear, trust, despair, hope, righteous anger, divine sorrow, overwhelming joy, abounding love, and miraculous perseverance. It’s been a wild ride, but we wouldn’t change a thing. We were brought to Ukraine, and then Romania, for such a time as this. That time has come to an end, but a new time is coming. Part 2, looking ahead to the New Year and what’s next for our ministry, will be coming soon.