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20 June 2022
Captain Rezo Bakhtadze, at front, was part of the Georgian Salvos team assisting Ukrainian refugees in Romania.
Captain Rezo Bakhtadze and his wife, Major Sophie Bakhtadze, are The Salvation Army’s leaders in Georgia. Below, Rezo shares his experience of helping Ukrainian refugees in Romania
Words Rezo Bakhtadze
Once we heard the Romanian Division (of The Salvation Army) call for volunteers, my wife Sophie and I spontaneously agreed to go. Volunteers Captain Temo Galustian, who oversees the Salvos Youth and Children’s work in Eastern Europe, and Eliza, soon joined us. This was our Georgian team.
We were sent to the north-eastern part of Romania, Siret, near the Ukrainian border. We spent eight days there with Salvation Army teams, helping Ukrainian refugees (who had fled the Russian invasion).
Every day we prepared and distributed food, handed out anti-human trafficking brochures, carried out pastoral care, solved problems with people’s documents and assisted in any way we could.
One day the leaders of the Salvation Army in Romania – Captain Ionut and Major Roxana Sandu – told us there had been several cases of human trafficking in a nearby town where a refugee shelter had been opened. There was a request that Eliza go to the camp with a local social worker to investigate the situation.
When Eliza arrived in the town, the situation was not good. They had kept internally displaced people (IDPs) in the shelter for a week despite their request to move to other European countries.
A group of 17, mostly women and children, wanted to go to Germany. We knew that a bus was scheduled to go to Germany from the border, so we tried to take them there so they could get where they wanted to go.
However, on hearing this, Eliza was forced to leave the camp, and the group of 17 had to stay in the shelter. Eliza informed Ionut and Roxana, who contacted the director of the Romanian Social Centre and explained the situation.
Emil Ghenea, a Romanian Salvation Army officer (pastor), went to help Eliza. Those of us who remained at the border were a little alarmed, but we trusted everything to God and showed our support to Eliza. When Emil arrived, the City Mayor intervened in the situation, and, despite efforts to keep the group in the camp, Eliza and Emil were able to get all 17 across the border and secure their departure to Germany.
About 50 people remained in that shelter who also tried to move to another country. Unfortunately, we were not able to help them. We were all disappointed, but we trusted the situation to God. Late one night, Ionut contacted us to say that the director of the Social Centre was very grateful for the Georgian team’s hard work. All staff at the shelter were fired, the city mayor was fired, and the vice mayor was installed in his place. The police are now constantly stationed at the refugee shelter to make sure the refugees are safe. Our whole team rejoiced and thanked God for answered prayers.
At the border, we met a retired couple from Mariupol. Their story was very hard to hear. They told us they had spent almost a month in a basement during the shelling, plus six days and nights on the road. They were hiding in the forest in fear of the enemy. When they finally crossed the border into Romania, they stayed in our accommodation tent for two days while waiting for their daughter. They shared horrible stories of the war with us. But, at the same time, they tried their best to be positive. They both often thanked us for everything. The morning after their arrival, we saw that they were helping other refugees coming in from Mariupol by distributing food and hot tea. We were introduced to all of them with great love and warmth.
As well as materially, we also had many opportunities to carry out pastoral care to IDPs. We prayed with them and used every opportunity to implant God’s hope in their lost hearts.
Since our time in Romania, I often think and pray for the children, women and the elderly who are still crossing the border to this day. I trust and believe that God will lighten all the pain and sorrow they are experiencing today.
Captain Rezo Bakhtadze leads The Salvation Army in the Republic of Georgia.