(ČB 12/2022) The war in Ukraine came unexpectedly. All the more reason to rejoice in the many ways we have managed to help as a church.
To date, the ECCB’s congregations have offered accommodation and direct help to some two thousand refugees. Specifically, help was organised in 130 congregations, while others contributed financially. We owe many thanks to all for their help and truly appreciate it! Difficult times have shown that there is more to the church than we often think.
From the very outset, we were faced with the question: how best to help and handle the situation given that most of those offering help in congregations are not humanitarian aid professionals?
Therefore, apart from money collected in congregations, which amounted to almost 3 million CZK, we created a team of people led by the Central Church Office in the very first days of the conflict. The project was also managed with the help of online meetings with representatives of the congregations, and the website ukrajina.e-cirkev.cz was created as early as 28 February for all information.
In the first days and weeks, it was essential to ensure that the ECCB was included among the beneficiaries of state aid, which was not easy at all. The state was improvising, just like our church was.
As “first aid”, together with Diaconia, we offered 25,000 CZK to all congregations who wanted to donate quickly, providing blankets or beds. A number of laptops, mobile phones and other accessories were also secured. A mobile connection was also installed as a donation at several clergy houses. In addition, from the very outset, Czech language began to be taught at approx. 25 clergy houses. Special recognition should be given to the congregation in Židenice, which has established one of the largest “language schools” with hundreds of students using the entire church.
We also did not forget about our Ukrainian compatriots. We presented a financial donation of 250,000 CZK to the congregations in Bohemka, Veselinovka and the community in Pervomajsk.
Eventually, the ECCB managed to secure massive financial support from several sources. What proved as a step of key importance was the hiring of coordinators who, on a daily basis, help the refugees accommodated in congregations or anyone in need help on the location. Approximately 20 people are involved in the actual implementation of the project, their work corresponds with about 7.5 full-time employments. Regional coordinators work in congregations where they are responsible for day-to-day assistance, such as accompanying people to local authorities, arranging accommodation, employment and leisure activities. We also employ coordinators at the church level who monitor the situation and provide material, financial or advisory assistance to congregations.
In the summer, the church began supporting minor renovation work to increase capacity and improve the quality of the accommodation. Thanks to this, many clergy houses managed to adapt spaces for the accommodation of refugees, leisure activities, or Czech language lessons. Approximately 50 congregations signed up for the project.
The ECCB also did not stand aside when it comes to help in Slovakia. At the beginning of the crisis, in cooperation with Diakonia, we provided financial donations of 14,000 €. In addition, the church provided water and food from Kofola in the amount of 15,000 €. We also sent three groups of volunteers to the Slovak-Ukrainian border.
In the summer, a library was opened for Ukrainian refugees in Prague. Our church bought Ukrainian books and together with the Albatros publishing house, the Scout Institute and the Svitlo Community Centre, under the auspices of the Ukrainian Embassy, we built a library that contains 5,000 books and is a place for refugees from Ukraine to meet with each other as well as with Czech citizens.
In the summer, we also supported leisure activities organized by individual congregations. This is important in facilitating adaptation to the new environment. Around 30 congregations received this type of support.
The above assistance is made possible through the generosity of foreign and domestic donors. The total amount of funds received and pledged for this aid amounts to approximately 17 million CZK and comes mainly from German, American and Swiss church organizations.
Seeing things realistically, we realise the war is not over. We want to be prepared for a next wave that is likely to come with the winter and the destruction of Ukraine's critical infrastructure. That is why we are already planning the continuation of our assistance for next year.
Following numerous interviews with refugees and with coordinators, we have identified the areas we want to cover in 2023. The first is women and children, for whom we plan to organize “women’s circles”. These should be small communities of women and children, where they will be able to receive the necessary crisis intervention, psychological help, education in current topics, etc. Sending them to specialized institutions has not proven successful. The second area focuses on the congregations themselves, which are affected by the impact of the energy crisis and the related huge increase in heating and hot water costs as a result of the war in Ukraine. As part of this assistance, financial contributions will be made to them to cover the costs of energy so as to reduce their economic burden. A literary competition for Czech and Ukrainian children is also being prepared to complement the ongoing aid.
In conclusion, we need to thank everybody. Not only the hundreds of you who have helped or are helping, our sponsors, partners, all the congregations, but also the Ukrainian refugees who are helping us learn to understand the true essence of Christianity: selfless love.
Martin Balcar, Chief Secretary of the Central Church Office and Head of the “Ukraine” Team