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1A travels to Lviv, Ukraine

The non-profit organization Future For Children works with children who've been displaced by the war. They have afterschool activities, summer camps and psychologists on staff. (Credit: Future for Children.)
The non-profit organization Future For Children works with children who've been displaced by the war. They have afterschool activities, summer camps and psychologists on staff. (Credit: Future for Children.)

Lubov Chaban has traveled around the world serving congregants for Baptist ministries from Sacramento, California, to the outskirts of Lviv, Ukraine. She’s a middle-aged Ukrainian woman with a deep smile, thick-rimmed glasses, and an unflinching resolve to get things done.

Ivan and Lubov Chaban, founders of the Good Samaritan non-profit in Lviv Ukraine supporting refugees from the war. (Credit: Chris Remington)

Lubov knew her ministry in Kamyanka-Buzka (a small town about 45 minutes north of Lviv) needed to do something once the war started. She and her husband Ivan decided to convert the senior center their church was constructing into a rehabilitation center for elderly refugees, calling it Дім Милосердя [Good Samaritan.]

“When war broke out on February 24th, we didn’t have electricity, water, or working pipes,” Lubov said through an interpreter.

“So I called the director of electricity in Lviv. And he says we only work in extreme situations. And I start crying, we need electricity, we need power because we need to take people in. After the phone call in 15 minutes we had people start working on the electricity.”

Lubov is among the scores of volunteers in western Ukraine supporting refugees from the frontlines of the war. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees estimates that there are at least 5.9 million internally displaced people in Ukraine.

Lviv has become a destination for many refugees because of its proximity to Poland, its multi-ethnic history and its relative safety. The missile strike on an apartment building in the Lviv city center on July 6 that killed ten people was the worst attack on the city since the start of the war.

1A Producers Avery Jessa Chapnick and Chris Remington traveled to Lviv to meet with several organizations working to support Ukrainian refugees. They heard stories from some of the most vulnerable people to Russia’s ongoing war of aggression in Ukraine, the children and the elderly.

Luda’s Story

Luda lived in the city of Bakhmut her entire life and wasn’t ready to leave. Her grandson repeatedly called on her to evacuate as the barrage of Russian attacks beginning in the fall of 2022 devastated her community. And on Feb. 16,  almost ayear into the war,tragedy struck.

“On that day, while [we] were cooking, a shard from the explosion it slit [my] grandson’s throat,” Luda said through an interpreter.  

To make matters worse, on the day in July of 1A‘s visit to the Good Samaritan Rehabilitation Center, Luda explained she received a call that her second grandson was in the hospital being treated for serious injuries. It’s unclear what his current condition is.

1A Producer Chris Remington interviewing Luda (left) about her experience in Bakhmut. (Credit: Good Samaritan.)

Amidst the tragedy, many in the center found joy in their daily activities. They have daily prayer, communal dinners and karaoke sessions. Luda explained she loves singing her favorite Ukrainian song, Oh What a Woman. It was playing on the radio when her late grandson told her he had proposed to his fiancé.

“When I ask they put on the song for me and it helps me remember him because I realized that I start forgetting how his face looked,” she explained through an interpreter.

Future for Children

Future for Children sits on the eastern edge of the city about a 15-minute tram ride from Lviv’s historic downtown. Director Iryna Pysarenko met 1A in a small classroom with about 15 children ranging in age from six-years0old to teenagers. They were eating pizza and celebrating a birthday.

Prior to the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Future for Children acted as an after-school program and summer camp for children who didn’t have stable home lives or whose parents required extra support. Beginning last February, they started working with families that fled the frontline of war and were living in Lviv as refugees.

Zlata is 8 years old and has attended the after-school program since last summer. She has blondehair,blue eyes, and a shy smile. She had trouble opening up until she started talking about her bunny, Businka. 

Eight-year-old Zlata with her pet bunny Businka. (Credit: Future for Children.)

An interpreter explained Zlata’s story.

“Her father serves now in the military,” she said. “And when it was her birthday, they went to Dnipro the city where her father and other soldiers were at this time. And the soldiers gave her this rabbit for her birthday.”

Zlata sleeps with her rabbit every night. Businka is a reminder of her father who remains at war. Her classmates have a psychologist who visits once a week and plays games with them.

The director Iryna has been working with children for more than twenty years. She explained why helping children find a sense of normalcy is a driving inspiration for her work.

“I’m from Mariupol, I fled Mariupol in first wave of war,” she said. “I know how difficult [it is] for people when they are refugees. In 2014, good people helped us and now I know I can help such families in crisis.”

Additional reporting from Avery Jessa Chapnick. 

Copyright 2023 WAMU 88.5

Chris Remington, Avery Jessa Chapnick