Frontline Responses from Ukraine Save Lives

ELCA members have dug deep into their pockets to help the people of Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the nation on Feb. 24. Louisa Ishida, program communicator for Lutheran Disaster Response (LDR), reported that at press time its Eastern Europe Crisis Response had raised $9 million.

Yet there are other stories, too, of Lutherans responding to the ongoing war and helping people whose lives have been upended. In one case, a friendship forged 20 years earlier at a Lutheran camp in southwestern Pennsylvania provided two families in Ukraine with an escape route to Germany. And back in the United States, a military veteran in Minnesota upended his life to become a long-term volunteer, delivering humanitarian aid near Lviv, in western Ukraine.

Christoph Kasch is from Germany, Igor Kyrpa from Ukraine. The two men met in 2001, when both were counselors at Camp Lutherlyn in Butler, Pa., and their friendship endured.

Kyrpa, a neurosurgeon, lives in Dnipro, an eastern Ukrainian city with a population of nearly 1 million. He said his wife, Julia, and their three children packed their bags—one suitcase each—months before the invasion began.

When Kyrpa sent the family to take refuge in Germany, he emailed Kasch, explaining that they were en route and asking him to be a friend, a caregiver and possibly a father to his children.

Kasch said there was never a question that he and his wife, Marianne, whom he also met at Camp Lutherlyn, wouldn’t help. “Igor didn’t ask us—he told us,” Marianne Kasch said. “He told us he sent them this morning and they’re on their way.”

The Kasches had bought a large house in 2021 that they had planned to renovate and open as a bed-and-breakfast. They hadn’t started the renovation and had only days to create livable space for Kyrpa’s family, as well as their friend, Natalya Shynkarenko, and her two children.

Rather than just prepare bedrooms, the Kasches decided to transform the second floor of the house into an apartment, putting up walls for three bedrooms, a common living space and a kitchenette so that the two families could have privacy and a sense of independence. The apartment renovation was completed in one weekend.

Marianne Kasch said the family also received a lot more help, both physical and financial. Her sister came up with the idea of opening a PayPal account where people could donate to help with construction costs. Within a week it reached $20,000, the maximum amount allowed on the platform. Bank accounts were set up for both families.

In Oil City, Pa., Marianne’s mother, Beth Orris, is choir director of Good Hope Lutheran Church, and through this contact, congregations in northwestern Pennsylvania also jumped in to help the families.

Grace Lutheran Church in Franklin, Pa., donated money for bikes or scooters to get the children to school, and other congregations collected money as well. “It’s sometimes nice to have a personal connection and know the people who you’re helping,” said Chris Curran, president of Grace’s council.

“Our church leadership didn’t need to organize anything,” said Sandra Jones, a pastor of Good Hope. “It’s a good example of how relationships and community come together in times of need. People contributed as they felt moved. It was very lovely to see.”

Christoph Kasch called the effort not a sprint but a marathon, as volunteers try to help the families become independent, learn German, get established in school and work through that country’s social system. “Our goal is to support our friends to start a new life,” he added.

For now, Marianne Kasch said, “It’s nice for us to have a bigger family.”

Kyrpa remains in Ukraine, where he continues to work every day. He said his hospital is treating many wounded people, adding, “I have to work because my country needs me and my experience.”

When he’s not working, he’s taking German classes in anticipation of joining his family at some point. “I see no way to come back here,” he added.

Kyrpa worries, too, that the world will move on from Ukraine’s troubles. Even now, months into the war, he said, “I don’t know what will be tomorrow.”

Mark Lindquist, a member of Zion Lutheran Church, Ortonville, Minn., said the call to service he heard growing up in the ELCA was what led him to self-fund a long-term volunteer trip to Ukraine that began in April and will likely extend through at least the end of this year. Remembering the service activities that were part of his experience at the 1997 Youth Gathering in New Orleans, he said, “This is where I was called to serve others.”

A U.S. Air Force veteran, Lindquist arrived in Poland on April 1 but didn’t get through the border into Ukraine until April 5. When he arrived, he said, the line of refugees waiting to enter Poland was 48 hours deep.

The last time he was at the border, he saw another line of people waiting to enter Ukraine as some refugees returned to areas now deemed safer.

Originally Lindquist had planned to serve in the foreign military volunteer legion, but he decided to become a nonmilitary volunteer when he realized there was little humanitarian aid on the Ukrainian side of the border.

Today he works on a team of volunteers distributing medical supplies and other everyday essentials to Ukrainians most in need. Zion is also helping to financially support Ukrainians.

As all this unfolded, LDR was accompanying ELCA companion churches and ecumenical partners in their efforts to provide support, supplies and care to people affected by the war. Ishida said the ministry had planned a six-month response to the crisis but is now working on a multiyear effort that will include the extensive rebuilding certain to be needed after the war.At first, through the Lutheran World Federation, LDR primarily accompanied companion churches in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine itself in their relief work, as well as supported ACT Alliance and RDGTS-Phiren Amenca in Hungary. But, as Ishida said, “our response has evolved.” Now LDR is addressing such long-range challenges as finding housing for the displaced, getting children into schools and providing language classes for them and the adults.

Source: Living Lutheran