Visiting Ukraine… Living a Useful Life
By Jill Hartzell
The widow smiled. Her eyes were intense from a life of great pain. Yet, tender and warm as she shared her life story with me. It was filled with concentration camps, great hardship, and overwhelming concern for the situation in Ukraine. Her small village of Pullin was far from the Russian border, yet there were signs everywhere that Ukraine was fighting for their very existence. No NATO to protect them, the young men are called to fight. Leaving behind their wives and small children, they travel to the eastern front. The government has no guns, helmets, boots, or outfits for these 25 to 50 year olds, so they must come prepared to fight in whatever they can purchase.
The dear widows are filled with deep sorrow. They held great hope for their grandchildren’s futures. But now their world has changed. Those young people gathered by the thousands in Independence Square to protest earlier this year. They built barricades and buildings burned. Many protestors died. We visited the memorials and were silenced by the great sacrifice of lives for independence.
As an American, I wanted to learn more about the struggles of common people in Ukraine. I traveled with the founders of Samaritan Ministries Ukraine in September 2014. My goal was to ask lots of questions and to learn how they live out their mission of helping those that can’t help themselves. Basic needs are universal, but how we meet those needs vary based on culture. The widows’ home was run with the motto, “Useful, Not Useless”. I really like that.
I met Milya, an 81 year old Jewish woman living in the widows’ house. Let me share her story…
“Thank God I’m still alive. I can walk, work and understand what I’m doing. One time I was very close to losing my faith in God. I asked God, ‘Where you are? Why don’t You see me and all my struggles?’”
But not anymore. Milya now sees everyone’s pain as her own.
Milya was born on September 10, 1932 in Kremenchuk, in the central part of Ukraine. During World War II the Germans destroyed 95% of the city. Her family was moved to a small village, which helped Milya to survive. After the war life was no easier. She remembers famine, and how her Mom was taken to the hospital because she starved herself. She wanted to save her kids and gave them all of her food. After her Mom`s recovery, the family moved to the relatives in Russia.
In Russia Milya graduated from school and at the age of 18 started to work hard in an aviation factory. Then she married and bore two sons. The older son had very poor health and Milya tried to work with him individually and taught him at home, because he was not able to go to an ordinary school. Year after year he got worse and to this day, he lives in a special place for the disabled in Russia. Milya calls him periodically to talk and hear how he is doing. She knows she will never see him again because of the long distance, very limited financial resources, her age and health.
After Milya`s husband died, her younger son married and moved to Zhytomyr. Milya wanted to be close to him and his new family. She sold her apartment in Russia and bought a small apartment in Zhytomyr for her son`s family. She tried living in different rented apartments, but with a small pension it was not easy to pay the bills and survive in the city. One day she saw an advertisement in the newspaper about Pulin Samaritan Widow’s House and she went to visit. During her first meeting with all the widows she just knew this would be home for her. She went back and packed up and has lived in the widow’s home ever since. She is very happy she lives there and finds peace and comfort knowing she will live there the rest of her life.
My visit to Ukraine reminded me how precious freedom is. It reminded me that struggles do not have to result in useless lives. It made me thankful for God’s love and devotion for each of us whether in Ukraine or America. I appreciate missionaries all over the world that leave the comforts of home to help others live useful lives. I challenge myself, on a daily basis, to contribute what I can to this call. Part of that call includes providing my financial skills to Mission ConneXion the last few years. It has been rewarding to see individuals connect with Mission organizations and fulfill their dreams of living useful lives.