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3 May 2022
Salvo Captain Oleg Samoilenko, his mum Irina, wife and fellow Salvos officer (pastor) Dominika, and daughter Michalina.
Irina was a volunteer for the Salvos in Ukraine before Russia’s invasion on 24 February. She had been in her hometown of Kharkiv, helping people fleeing the separatist conflict in the Donbas region of south-eastern Ukraine since 2014 before she had to flee herself. Despite the trauma she experienced, Irina is now volunteering with the Salvos again, in Poland, assisting refugees escaping the war. Below she shares a snapshot of her story.
As the bombs fell on Kharkiv, Ispent several days in a bomb shelter next to my apartment building, which was destroyed. Approximately 40 people shared the shelter, mostly children and the elderly. During explosions, we covered children with mattresses and sometimes our own bodies. We were often without food.
My husband, sister and I were able to escape in my stepson’s car despite the bombing, proximity of Russian troops, and huge traffic jams because of fleeing Ukrainians.
As we left Kharkiv, we saw Ukrainian troops everywhere. I was so shocked it was hard to concentrate. Once we were outside the city, the sounds of war finally stopped. The Salvos in the town of Dnipro where my son Oleg was once a Salvation Army officer (pastor), helped us along the way. My husband had to stay in Ukraine.
Irina and her granddaugher Michalina.
Once we got to the border, I saw Oleg, who is an officer in Warsaw working in emergency relief and anti-trafficking on the border. Ijust cried. I am very grateful to all the people who prayed for me and helped me. My hands are still shaking, and Istill get nervous when Ihear ambulance sirens or other loud noises.
I now volunteer with Oleg and the Salvos teams to try to help others fleeing Ukraine.
The Salvation Army throughout Eastern Europe continues to assist displaced Ukrainians as they flee the Russian invasion. Teams in various countries, including Bulgaria, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine, are providing food, clothing, assistance with accommodation and onward travel, temporary resettlement, documentation, medical aid, and anti-human trafficking awareness. In addition, the workers are there to listen to, comfort, and spiritually support the traumatised and distressed.
The Salvos are also assisting people from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Nigeria who were living in Ukraine and are fleeing to safety.
Captain Oleg Samoilenko, a Ukrainian Salvation Army officer (pastor), working in Poland, says he hears many stories of escape and trauma. “Sometimes I have no words,” he says. “I hear about wives who have to say goodbye to their husbands at the border, a bomb that hits an orphanage, a woman who sees her husband and child killed, a grandmother fleeing her homeland in a dressing gown. There are lots of tears.
“We are trying to show refugees that there is still hope in all of this. For so many, we help wipe their tears, work through their shock, and assure them of hope for the future. It’s not just about food and clothes, it’s about hope and community.
“Despite these difficult days, and sometimes not knowing what to say to those who have lost loved ones, each new day brings new hope,” says Oleg. “God sees everything, and justice will win.”