For thousands of people with disabilities or spinal injuries across Ukraine, Agape Rehabilitation Center represents peace and serenity. The center’s stately three-story building and its surrounding gardens and meadows were designed to give visitors a place to comfortably rest and recover from pain, and to participate in physical, occupational and speech therapy.
That tranquility vanished on Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022, when the rumble of exploding munitions rocked several Ukrainian cities, shattering any sense of stability across the whole country. Russian forces had invaded eastern, southern and northern portions of Ukraine after weeks of escalated tension but no promises of a full-scale war.
Explosions were even heard near Agape in the northwestern city of Lutsk, around an hour and a half drive away from the Polish border with Ukraine.
Almost immediately following news of the invasion, Agape staff received multiple calls from people wondering if the center could provide any shelter for their relatives and loved ones with disabilities. Thousands of Ukrainians were already on the move — many of them heading westward toward other European nations.
For refugees with disabilities like Agape’s patients, the journey out of Ukraine would be difficult without proper assistance. They could need specialized transportation, refills of their medication, or simply a place to rest along the way.
In response to the need for safe passage through the country, Ukrainian churches and organizations, including Agape, have acted like an ad-hoc network in the wake of invasion, mobilizing resources to fuel, feed, clothe and care for refugees. Christian Health Service Corps Missionary Carrie Moss, a physical therapist and trainer that helped start Agape, said the center began transforming its mission to refugee care almost without thinking or a set plan.
“We were not prepared. No one had thought that we would be taking in refugees,” Carrie said. “I don’t think it was necessarily intentional. It just has flowed as the whole country is mobilizing to help one another and start networking. Our church and all the area churches that had any kind of basement met together and immediately cleared out their underground structures, started laying down mattresses and preparing to take residents of our area to give them a place to take cover and shelter.”
A network of affiliated churches, organizations, and friends of Agape have indefinitely turned the center into a de-facto checkpoint for refugees — especially for people with disabilities. By the following Monday after the invasion, a group of people living at Agape had departed the facility to find refuge in other European countries, while another group of people were on their way to the center to temporarily stay there.
UN estimates place the number of refugees who have left Ukraine at around 2 million as of March 8, with around 500,000 of those escaping the country on Sunday, March 6 alone. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, called the movement “the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.”
Agape is currently processing around 60 people in each round of refugees, though the organization has not had to spend much time advertising their work, thanks to the efforts of other Ukrainian Christians.
“We didn’t have to search people out,” Carrie said. “People searched us out, essentially, when needing a safe place to live. … The networking that’s going on all throughout Ukraine, particularly Ukrainian churches, now is so strong that people are finding people. People are referring people to the places they know to send people. It’s just going down the line.”
Refugees who stop at Agape on their way out of Ukraine can receive food, hygiene products, blankets, money, and help with transportation at no cost to them.
Donations can be made by texting “CHSCUkraine” to 41444, or visiting the CHSC’s Ukraine MobileCause website at bit.ly/CHSCUkraine.
“Thank you to those who are considering and have given. There have already been so many people that I know and don’t know that have been so generous,” Carrie said. “The Church in Ukraine is very highly mobilized to do the work of serving Ukrainians. So by providing them with funds, you’re providing them with the opportunity to continue to serve… They’re being the hands and feet of Christ.”