‘It was no longer just a war over the seas’ A glimpse into Ukraine

Refugees wait in line in an attempt to leave Ukraine through Romania.
(Photo courtesy of: Alan Parker)
Refugees wait in line in an attempt to leave Ukraine through Romania. (Photo courtesy of: Alan Parker)

It has been over a month since Russia invaded Ukraine, yet the struggles of the citizens have not ceased. Several countries and organizations have provided aid and medical assistance to refugees fleeing from danger, but what do these hardships really look like?

Alan Parker, a professor in the School of Religion, and his daughter, Anaya Parker, provide a glimpse into the harsh reality. Unlike a majority of other students and faculty, the Parkers spent their Spring break in Ukraine. Traveling the country and others nearby, they assisted in many ways and participated in evangelistic meetings where Parker preached.

“One morning, I woke up and said, ‘Instead of getting so frustrated with all of this, why don’t we do something?’” Parker said. “So, I started connecting with a few people over there, and things started to fall into place.”

Once in Ukraine, the Parkers further understood the reality of the situation. According to them, Adventist doctors were seeing patients for mental health, gynecology and other medical care without charging anything. The lines extended outside these clinics with 50 to 100 people waiting hours in freezing cold temperatures. 

Furthermore, they noticed how men ages 18 to 60 are forced to stay, but are not conscripted. Those outside that range must provide birth certificates as proof of age in order to leave the country, with  the only exemption for men between those ages being if they are the sole provider of three or more biological children, according to Parker. 

“Some women are divorcing their husbands so that they can go across the border,” Anaya Parker said. “Then their husband comes with their kids so the whole family can get across, because that’s the only way that they do that.” 

While in Ukraine, the Parkers visited Masha Shumskaya, a resident of Ukraine, and more importantly, caregiver of their other daughter, Anya,  pre-adoption. Shumskaya lives in Northern Ukraine, near the border of Russia and Belarus, and has experienced the invasion from its beginning. 

“I remember my mom’s call at 5 a.m. She told me, ‘Masha, dear, get up and don’t panic — the war started.’ I couldn’t believe it,” Shumskaya said in an interview with the Accent. “[I am] waiting for all this nightmare to cease as soon as possible as I want to go home to hug my relatives and say to them, ‘How I love you.’ We could understand that there is nothing more important than our families and friends; material things don’t matter anymore.”

Parker noted that members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, as well as Adventist organizations such as the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), have been a significant help to the people in Ukraine. ADRA President Michael Kruger released a statement on February 25 declaring that ADRA will not stand idle and will ensure that its “humanitarian aid can quickly reach those in need.” 

In several small churches near the border of Ukraine, pastors and their congregations help refugees in trouble.

“They have taken all the pews out of the church,” Parker said. “They’ve got beds down, and the members are now meeting in the pastor’s home so that the refugees can sleep in the church. It was just amazing to see how the church had responded, and it was making a practical difference.”

During the summer, Parker said he hopes to create a partnership between the Evangelistic Resource Center and Vision Trips to send students as aides and evangelists for refugees. Specifically, he would like to send students to Cluj Napoca, Romania, from May 11 to 29; Bucharest, Romania from June 2 to 12 and East Hungary from June 9 to 20. He plans to bring several nursing, religion and any other students willing to help.

“We’ve been having meetings with them [ERC and Vision Trips] to kind of plan this together,” Parker said. “You don’t have to sit on the sidelines; you can do something. No matter what our sphere of influence, when you see a tragedy, when you see a war, it’s worthwhile doing something.

“We don’t know what the next steps will be, but I realized at any moment, all of life could change,” Parker continued.

Despite visiting for less than a week and spending several days traveling on planes, trains and cars, the Parkers witnessed the human impact of war. 

“It’s not just a war happening in Ukraine; it affects all of us,” Anaya Parker said. “There [are] so many people [who] are just like us that are over there. And I think it’s important to take the war out of it and think about the people — the individuals — that are personally having to do things. It’s no longer just a war over the seas.”

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