At 4:20 a.m. Monday, after a few hours of sleep and four days of scrambling to gather supplies and make other travel arrangements, five members of a Wasilla church arrived at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to fly to Poland in their quest to support Ukrainian refugees.
The Wasilla Word of Life Church group – David Torba, William Maas, David Rudenkiy, Alena Ogolenko and Oksana Rudenkiy – will be staying in Krakow for approximately 10 days, helping Ukrainian refugees access food and shelter in addition to offer translation services.
“We saw that there was a great need to help the refugees, and that’s what prompted us to go,” said Torba, a youth pastor who leads the group. “Our main goal is to take care of the refugees who arrive – to make sure they get to safe places, to make sure they can’t just freeze outside because it’s it’s cold there like it is here. It’s just about taking care of the refugees in any way necessary.
The group brings with them six suitcases filled with medical supplies, formula, diapers, hats, gloves, hand warmers and personal hygiene items, Ogolenko said.
The religious group decided to go to Poland because “that’s where the most refugees are arriving at the moment, mainly women, children and the elderly who are allowed to cross,” Torba said.
Each of the travellers, all of whom are under 30, speak English and Russian, and some of them also know Ukrainian. They hope to use their language skills to help Ukrainian refugees navigate a new country.
For some members of the group, the decision to take this trip was personal. Ogolenko’s father was once a church pastor in Ukraine, and his close ties to the country, along with the stories of other volunteers on the ground, sparked a strong desire to help Ukrainians, Yana Sinyawski said. , secretary of the Word of Life Church and Ogolenko’s friend.
“She said she really felt the burning desire in her heart to go,” Sinyawski said. “That’s how it all started. And like the other people in the group: I think they all had this desire to go out and help people in need and just share the gospel.
Torba said he had cousins who lived in the Kiev region, Ukraine’s capital, and although his relatives are now safe, that is not the case for many Ukrainians whose cities and the villages are now under attack by the Russian army.
More than 1.7 million Ukrainians have left their country in search of safety. Of this number, more than a million came to Poland, according to Data of the United Nations refugee agency.
In Poland, the Word of Life Church group will join the Awakening Europe ministry, which has been on the ground for at least a week and has a plan to effectively deliver aid during an ongoing war, Sinyawski said.
“Just because the war happened so quickly,” Torba said, doesn’t mean the preparation for the trip was also quick.
Sinyawski said the conversation about the trip started on Monday, February 28. Two days later, the band bought their tickets. In about four days, they had to prepare everything.
Once the group was ready to travel, friends, family, church members and colleagues expressed their support and provided financial assistance. After a hectic few days of supplying the refugees, the five church members took off from Anchorage.
“It wasn’t easy, but it was doable. We did it,” Torba said of preparing for the short-notice trip. “We look forward to serving people, showing people care and giving them hope in a hopeless time.”