The news of 24 February 2022 took nearly everyone by surprise. Despite the occupation of Crimea and ongoing fighting in the Donbas, few believed that Mr. Putin would pursue – or had much to gain from – a war with his neighbor.
Within days, the unthinkable became reality. Missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities, and Ukrainian citizens were moving en masse to borders and bomb shelters. Hundreds of thousands, and ultimately millions, of Ukrainians – mostly women and children – poured into Europe: many without resources or relatives in the countries where they arrived, and most without a plan.
Without an immediate protection response, Ukrainians on the move were vulnerable to harm from predators, traffickers, and even well-intentioned but inexperienced volunteers. European Freedom Network Executive Director Leanne Rhodes launched into action, calling together a team to create safety tips for refugees crossing into Europe.
The European Freedom Network (EFN) is a regional network partner of the World Freedom Network, the anti-trafficking arm of the World Evangelical Alliance. EFN is a Christian community of over 270 partner organisations, collaborating to fight human trafficking and commercial exploitation across Europe. EFN partners have worked together for over ten years to combat trafficking in Europe. EFN partners in countries bordering Ukraine organized swiftly to assist and protect Ukrainians in transit, at the borders, and in temporary shelter.
Equipped with safety guidelines, EFN’s ministry and church partners headed for Ukraine’s borders. In Poland, overwhelmed border police asked for permission to reprint EFN’s guidelines, spreading the material to all of their border crossings and ultimately to refugee hubs around the county.
While nations and international NGOs struggled to prepare for the refugee influx, private cars and vans pulled up to border crossings offering passage to “safety”. Aware of the risks this posed for traumatized women and children, EFN created a further set of guidelines for people on the move AND for churches serving at the borders, including those ferrying Ukrainians to temporary accommodation.
Churches in bordering countries became an immediate source of volunteer manpower – and way-stations for those seeking shelter. Local believers responded with generosity and compassion, working tirelessly to support the vulnerable newcomers in their communities. EFN partners stepped up to support them by equipping local responders with simple tips on trauma care, including “Creating Physical Safety”, “Listening Well”, and materials to assist those helping children exposed to trauma and women who experienced sexual violence.
As churches encountered, and in many cases hosted, people in crisis, the call for more resources and training grew louder. The EFN team compiled a database of vetted trauma tools, shared in partnership with the European Evangelical Alliance. Trauma experts from around the world answered the call to design a series of webinars to respond to urgent, overlooked, or under-resourced trauma needs, and continue to collaborate on practical training for churches. Webinars, tips, and trauma tools are all available at www.europeanfreedomnetwork.org
The World Freedom Network stands with churches across Europe as they protect and care for vulnerable people, and prays with them for an end to Russia’s war on Ukraine.