27-year-old Lea lives in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol with her husband Artem and their two boys aged three and five. An accountant by profession, she is currently on maternity leave and describes how life has changed since the conflict with Russia ...
Here in Ukraine, you can take maternity leave for up to 3.5 years, so I’m now living like a ‘typical’ housewife: washing, cooking and cleaning. During spring and summer, our small vegetable garden will be added to my tasks.
As in most Western countries, living as a Christian in Ukraine is not that different. In fact, the Ukrainian Church is quite active and colourful – with many denominations.
The role of women in Ukrainian churches depends largely on where you worship. Some churches have very strict rules about the style of clothes and behaviour, curtailing rights of what you are allowed to take part in. Other churches focus on the inner person and what the soul needs.
Personally, I am a member of a traditional, strict Pentecostal church, where my usual behaviour is not always smiled upon. For instance, when I organised an extreme hike (a hobby of mine), some were shocked and didn’t quite understand how a young woman could organise something like this instead of a man!
This differs greatly from how women are perceived outside of the church. Women are often more active and work in leadership roles, receiving more respect in the workplace than in Christian circles.
The war, of course, has created big adjustments in our lives. We have begun to appreciate the small things that were not expensive before. The country’s economy has fallen hard: we cannot find work in our region, wages have risen, but prices continue to grow daily. You fill your basket like you used to, but when you get to the checkout you pay at least twice the amount!
Yet, God is not abandoning us. It is a miracle that, even in this difficult year, we are somehow living better than last year. Friends from the western regions [including Operation Mobilisation] have gathered and sent aid to the war zones of Ukraine. We are provided with vegetables, cereals, sugar, and oil. I’m so grateful to God for these good people because despite the unrealistic prices, we have not starved or been forced to borrow. This experience has been the same for many members of our church.
The war is raging throughout the surrounding areas of Mariupol, but the city itself is still whole. We daily hear the hail of mortars and howitzers. Soldiers with machine guns on the streets, tanks and armoured personnel carriers are not out of place anymore. During the attack on an Eastern district, 5km from our house, crashing shells caused us to huddle on the ground as our legs buckled under us by their sheer force. We have experienced and know what panic is – when your mind just turns off and you do not know where to run. My children tremble and cry when they hear gunfire.
However, we have witnessed God working through the conflicts. Many people have moved closer to him. This was largely unheard of in the past. Individuals would often laugh at your faith or speak up against the existence of God. Now, people listen again to the Gospel. Even at roadblocks, soldiers are open to Bible studies and some even stand up against those who do not want to listen!
We are now more fervent in our prayer, and many people are becoming united through it. I am sure that only because of this, our city, which everybody predicted would already fall and be destroyed during September 2014, continues to stand unharmed.
My husband is the youth leader in our church. During the summer we assisted refugees from other cities. I know it sounds pretty strange, but we are happy that we are living through it all. I rely on God more than ever before. He is closer than ever.
I would like to appeal to Christians in the UK: Dearest women! Hold dear your friends and family, because they will not always be with you. Be thankful to God for peace and prosperity in your country. Help those who need your help – this brings fullness of joy and reassurance that you are not on this earth without reason. Pray for our country, for our city – all around us the warfare is becoming increasingly devastating.
Thank you for remembering us. We wish you peaceful skies and joy in God. God bless you!
+ Our thanks to Operation Mobilisation for organising this interview for us.
To find out more about how they are helping those in need in Ukraine visit www.uk.om.org or call 01691 773388