From hosting Ukrainian families in their homes to helping with transportation, food and shelter to facilitating donations back to Ukraine, many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Poland are willing to serve, reported ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
In the three months since the conflict began, the United Nations estimates that 14 million people have left their homes in Ukraine. Of those, some 6 million have moved to neighboring countries — including more than 3 million who are in Poland.
Latter-day Saints RaeAnn Jarvis and her husband, Sterling, are hosting a family of five in their home in Warsaw, Poland. Kyiv natives Maryna Bovt, her husband, Serhii, and their three children needed somewhere to stay after traveling 500 miles — and arriving at the Jarvises’ door at 1 a.m. It expanded the family of eight to 13.
“At first, it was just a matter of making sure you guys were fed and sheltered and helping out as much as we could,” RaeAnn Jarvis said while sitting next to the Bovts in her home. “But over time it’s turned into something more — a genuine love and concern for you guys.”
“When you share love, it grows,” Maryna Bovt said of the Jarvises’ example of service. “It makes us closer to each other and to the Lord.”
And they’ve seen the nine children from their combined families get along.
“They played together from the first minute,” Bovt said. “They don’t care about languages. They don’t care about differences. … It’s wonderful. I’m so happy to see how they play together, smiling. They’re happy.”
RaeAnne Jarvis said the example of their children, as well as the collective generosity of the Polish people, is a model for the world.
“There’s such a feeling of love and acceptance [in Poland],” she said. “If the whole world were to act like the Polish people are acting, I think the whole world would turn around. … There’s such goodness here. I hope that spreads to the whole world.”
Former refugees reaching out
Denis and Kateryna Peresada moved to Warsaw from Kyiv seven years ago. Kateryna Peresada was herself once a refugee. She fled with her family from war in Georgia in the early 1990s. In 2014, when conflict erupted in the Donbas — where Denis Peresada is from and where they were married — the couple helped people from eastern Ukraine settle in Kyiv.
Now the Peresada family is helping their Ukrainian friends find clothing, blankets, food and shelter — and kindness.
“People always need to know that our Heavenly Father will never leave them alone,” Denis said. “He will always help them. It doesn’t matter what situation they are in. It doesn’t matter where they are. He will always help them. That is our testimony. We have seen it happening.”
Learning from each other
For nearly 12 weeks, Agnieszka Mazurowska and others in her congregation have given Ukrainian refugees food and hygiene kits. They are also helping them learn Polish and find work, reported ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
Mazurowska has helped several Ukrainian families in her home with a place to sleep and meals, along with rides to the airport, securing COVID-19 tests and sharing the simple comfort of a hug and a hopeful word.
She’s been able to learn from the Ukrainian women she’s met.
“They share their stories, and we can learn more,” Mazurowska said. “And this has shown me that the gospel is the same in every country. And this is what is connecting us. We have become more like family. We know each other better.”
‘Strength beyond our abilities’
Elder Brian Baxter and his wife, Sister Kristy Baxter, of Utah, have been helping refugees with transportation, food and shelter.
Elder Baxter said he and his wife have seen “miracles of finding housing for these folks when there was no housing,” as well as procuring the exact items needed while shopping for refugees.
“[This experience has] helped me personally understand that the enabling power of the Atonement [of Jesus Christ] is real,” Elder Baxter said. “It’s real for us here. It’s real for the refugees. It’s real for these members. We are all given strength beyond our abilities. We are given wisdom beyond our experience. We’re given energy where we thought we were out of energy.”
For Elder Lot Smith and his wife, Sister Helen Smith, of Idaho, part of their assignment is to buy food that is then taken by van to Ukraine. When the drivers return, they show the Smiths photos of the recipients with the food.
“When we see those pictures of a little boy with a package of cold cereal or this grandmother on her bicycle with a can of peaches, we can look and say, ‘We know that can of peaches — we bought that can of peaches,’” Elder Smith said. “You can see from their conditions, from the background in these pictures, that their homes have been destroyed. That’s why we do what we do — to help those in need. And these people that this food is going to are definitely those people in need.”
Andriy Didushok, a Church leader in Rivne, Ukraine, which is about four hours west of Kyiv, drives refugees to western Ukraine and Poland with a van that American friends helped him purchase to do this. He said thousands of refugees on their way to Europe have been refreshed at the Church’s chapels in western Ukraine, reported ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
Didushok is one of the drivers who, on his way back into Ukraine, delivers the food collected by the Baxters and the Smiths.
“[God] knows we can help these people — not only for food and body but especially the soul,” Didushok said. “We cannot organize this [on our own]. We are not professionals. We are not a logistics company. But God can do this. I’ve seen the strong and soft hand of God in the life of each person [we’ve] helped.”