Updated December 27, 2014
Much has been written about how the Adventist Church through its relief agency, ADRA, has assisted people internally displaced by conflict in east Ukraine.
But ADRA also has been busy on the Russian side of the border, providing food, clothing, shelter and money to scores of refugees who have fled Ukraine since the turmoil started in April.
About 810,000 people have fled to Russia over the past eight months, according to the United Nations and Russia. Many entered Russia through the Rostov region, which borders Ukraine’s east.
The Russian government has opened refugee tent camps and ordinary Russians have opened their homes to the refugees. Humanitarian organizations, including ADRA, have stepped in to help.
“People were often forced to flee from their homes in the military conflict in only their underwear, and they needed absolutely everything,” said Dmitriy Plugatariov, ADRA coordinator for the Adventist Church’s Caucasus Union Mission, which includes the Rostov region.
“Many church members opened their homes to shelter the refugees, and ADRA regularly places refugees in various towns of the Rostov region,” Plugatariov said.
Adventist churches across Russia have held fundraising campaigns, with church members donating hundreds of thousands of rubles (tens of thousands of dollars) to support the refugees.
Here are some of the refugee projects coordinated by ADRA with the Adventist Church in the Rostov region:
The next project saw church members provide food to 300 refugees living in a temporary facility.
Many refugees, however, lived in the homes of local residents, and they sought food and other assistance at a specially designated distribution point set up by City Hall. The church brought food and personal hygiene items to the distribution point.
In addition, the church gathers food baskets (each weighing 8 kilograms, or about 18 pounds) for refugees living in private homes, and members distribute them to families weekly.
“Thus with God's help, they are able to support 400 families every month,” Plugatariov said.
While church members have assisted all refugees, the Caucasus Union Mission has felt a special burden for Adventists who have been uprooted by the violence, Plugatariov said. The church has handed out 5,000 rubles (at the time worth about $175) per family for essential items and helped many purchase train tickets to reach relatives in other parts of Russia. While in the Rostov region, Adventist refugees have received food and shelter in the homes of fellow Adventists.
About 38,000 refugees, including 11,500 children, remain in temporary shelter in the Rostov region today, according to Russian news agency Itar-Tass.
Guillermo Biaggi, president of the Euro-Asia Division, which includes Russia and Ukraine, praised ADRA for its work with people displaced by the conflict in east Ukraine.
"We give thanks for the dozens of ADRA workers, willing to bring aid, medicine, food and clothing to thousands of refugees both in Russia and in Ukraine," Biaggi said.
Plugatariov in turn said he was grateful to church members for their support.
“Let us always remember that in doing good to others, we are serving the Lord,” he said, citing Matt. 25:40: “Just as you did it for the one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did it for Me.”
Both Plugatariov and Biaggi asked for prayers for peace in the region.
"We continue to pray for so many young mothers with their kids who are in great need of help and support far from their homes and their kids from their schools," Biaggi said. "They look to the future with hope, when they will be able to return to their towns and normal activities."
He said he took comfort from the words of Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White in her book My Life Today, p.10: "We can see only a little way before us; 'but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him [God] with whom we have to do.' He never becomes confused. He sits above the confusion and distractions of the earth and all things are opened to His divine survey; and from His great and calm eternity He can order that which His providence sees is best. … Whatever burdens lay heavily, cast them on the Lord. He that kept Israel, neither slumbers nor sleeps. Repose in God. He is kept in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on God."
Adventist Review, Nov. 21, 2014: "U.S. Vice President’s Wife Praises ADRA's Work in Ukraine"
Adventist Review, Sept. 22, 2014: "Adventists Help Reach Religious Agreement on East Ukraine"
Adventist Review, Sept. 9, 2014: "Ukraine’s Turmoil 'Will Not Affect' 13th Sabbath Offering"
Adventist Review, July 31, 2014: "Adventist Pastor Narrowly Escapes Fighting in Eastern Ukraine"
Adventist Review, July 27, 2014: "From Conflict-Hit Ukraine, Adventists Tell Stories of Hope"
Adventist Review, June 26, 2014: "Adventists Urged to Pray for Peace in Ukraine"