17 March 2022, Siret, Romania: A man stirs a large pot of soup at the Vama Siret border crossing, Romania. The Vama Siret border crossing connects northeast Romania with Ukraine. Located north of Siret and further in the south the city of Suceava, the crossing connects Romania with the Ukrainian village of Terebleche and further north the city of Chernivtsi. Following the invasion of Ukraine by Russian military starting on 24 February 2022, close to half a million refugees have fled across the Ukrainian border into Romania. In the past 24 hours, government figures indicate more than 50,000 people have crossed the border in search of refuge, an estimated 20 percent of whom are expected to stay in Romania, rather than transit into other European countries.

PHOTO: Albin Hillert/WCC

By Elliott Wright
April 4, 2022 | ATLANTA

Donors to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) are providing food, water, medicine, shelter and transportation to Ukrainians and other refugees fleeing Russian invaders inside their country and to those seeking refuge in neighboring countries.

“As of April 4, UMCOR has allocated nearly $2 million to a broad range of local and regional refugee-related services, and other expenditures reaching into the hundreds of thousands of dollars are in planning,” according to Roland Fernandes, general secretary of Global Ministries and UMCOR. “More than $5 million has been given for the Ukraine work to date. Gifts by mail or through local churches arrive more slowly but contribute significantly to the long-term work of meeting refugee needs.

“Humanitarian response for people displaced by war or natural disasters is always long-term and involves careful action to alleviate immediate suffering and also to lay the groundwork for unfolding, often unexpected, events. UMCOR has an excellent track record in pulling together resources to cover extended needs.”

The conflict in Ukraine may result in as many as 10 million refugees, according to various estimates. Dealing with even half that number of displaced persons is a major international humanitarian challenge.

Support for basic needs

UMCOR funds are assisting local community shelters in Zaporizhzhia in Southeastern Ukraine and in and Mukachevo and Uzhhorod in Western Ukraine. The United Methodist Ukraine-Moldova Annual Conference is drawing on UMCOR in its support of the basic human needs of people on the move. Shelters exist in cities including Kyiv, Lviv, Kamyanitsia and Uzhhorod.

Initial UMCOR operational grants are assisting the efforts of United Methodists in Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania to welcome and care for the refugees, many of whom are women and children, leaving Ukraine. In addition, a grant to the Human Rights League in Bratislava is providing emergency legal assistance to refugees in Slovakia, primarily through services at the train stations as they arrive.

The United Methodist Church in Estonia will use an UMCOR grant to refit a camp site to house and provide emergency services to 40 refugees. As of March 30, an estimated 22,000 refugees from Ukraine had made their way into Estonia. Two camps related to The United Methodist Church in the Czech Republic are also being equipped with an UMCOR grant to house refugees.

Broad partnerships

Major support in the range of a million dollars for regional service is being channeled through ACT Alliance, an ecumenical agency with contacts in 125 countries, formerly part of the World Council of Churches. Working with its European staff, ACT Alliance is providing services for new and expectant mothers, children, especially autistic children and others with disabilities, as well as working to prevent exploitation and human trafficking, which are always threats when large numbers of refugees are involved.

UMCOR is partnering with the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) in the transport and care for refugees from Ukraine entering Romania. This work is expected to serve 9,000 individuals.

Refugees in Moldova, an independent country between Ukraine and Romania, will benefit from funds designated by UMCOR for the work of Church World Service, an ecumenical agency and a frequent UMCOR partner for refugee ministries.

Elliott Wright is an information consultant with Global Ministries.