Ukrainian Refugee Celebrates Resurrection/Friendship on Easter – California Southern Baptist Convention

Ukrainian Refugee Celebrates Resurrection/Friendship on Easter

Published Apr 21, 2022

By Terry Barone

SACRAMENTO—It was an Easter celebration almost 30 years in the making for two Ukrainian childhood friends that spanned two continents, three countries and about 6,500 miles.

For the first time since Yelena, a Sacramento resident and members of the Russian Baptist Church in West Sacramento, immigrated to the United States in 1994, the two women and their families celebrated the resurrection of Christ together.

But that’s not the complete story since Yelena’s family is housing Olena’s family who have come to the United States as refugees from Ukraine. It’s a story of love, compassion and strong faith in God and His providence.

Olena joined the Sacramento church’s choir and said it was “unbelievable” celebrating Easter in the United States with her best friend. “We have been praying for more than 27 years for this time together and God had answered our prayers.”

Olena, nearest row, and her childhood friend, Yelena, sang in the choir of the Russian Baptist Church (Bryte Church) in West Sacramento on Easter Sunday. Olena and her family are refugees from Ukraine and are being hosted by Yelena and her family.

She described the experience as “unexpected and unreal like the resurrection itself. We were rejoicing about the victory of our Lord over sin and death.”

When Russian forces invaded Ukraine in late February, Yelena immediately knew Olena and her family were to immigrate to the United States and decided her family would help them through the resettlement. “I began praying and fasting and asking the Lord how my family could help this family.”

Yelena explained that Olena has no family in Ukraine or the United States and it would have been “challenging” for them immigrate. “They were fortunate to have a contact in the United States. Other refugees are not as fortunate,” she said.

Olena said, “Our move to United States only became possible with help of Yelena and her husband. They were sincerely worried about the safety of our family in Ukraine and were insisting on this risky move.”

Besides praying and fasting, Olena explained that Yelena’s family “bought the tickets, booked hotels and helped us step by step, until we safely arrived to Sacramento.”

Not only is Olena’s family thankful for their help in getting to America, but for everything they’ve done for us – welcoming us into their home, clothing and feeding us, helping with legal processes and other things. We are so happy to live under a peaceful sky, now we are appreciating it in a very different away.”

Yelena said it is important to sacrifice and be involved in this ministry. “We understand this is temporary and can put our schedule on reserve and help them as much as possible. They have urgent needs and  need to get back to some sort of scheduled life. When they find independence, we can go back to our normal life.”

However, Yelena describes the household as nothing but normal. “Life in our house is very crazy. Both families are living in tight quarters. There is constant feeding with hungry boys. We cook more often than we did and have to make certain there is food on the table all the time.

Yelena (left), Olena, and their children take a trip down memory lane looking at photo albums of the two women as children in Ukraine. They were reunited 27 years later when Olena’s family came to the United States as refugees as a result of the Russia/Ukraine War.

“Their children have started to school, but Olena and her husband are heavily involved in getting established and settling. There’s a lot to the documentation process and obtaining legal status with countless appointments at different government offices and with other organizations.”

Olena agreed and said, “It’s a very different life – different culture, language, pace, priorities, mentality and so much more. We are trying to get our driver’s licenses, authorization for employment, ability to rent a place to live and make new friends. We also want to find a church and ministries where we can serve our Lord and bring Him glory. It is very overwhelming for us, but we strongly believe if God has brough us here He will take care of us here.”

Ministry is important to Olena and her family and it was difficult deciding to “leave behind everything that we worked so hard for. Our house, our normal busy lifestyles.”

“I am director of a charity fund that helps so many people in their needs and my husband, Artur, is a general contractor and owned a construction company. We had to drop everything and just run for safety. We had to leave everything that was so important to us and close to our hearts – our church, our ministries, friends, even our oldest son, Ivan” because Ukraine is requiring men to stay in the country and either join the fight or be conscripted.

Because the family had three children under the age of 18, the family, including Olena’s husband, were allowed to leave. And so Olena, Artur and their three youngest – boys aged 15, 13 and 7 – ran for their lives. 

She said it was an agonizing decision, but “God’s word came to the rescue, when we remembered Proverbs 22:3 ‘A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself.’ We realized that God was moving us out of our comfortable home into the unknown.”

Olena added that she could talk for a long time about how God confirmed their decision to leave. “Amazing things happened. God was close to our family through this exodus, guiding every step of the way with His miracles and mercy.”

Having left everything behind, Olena says her family is growing in faith daily. “We are learning to accept His ways of controlling and managing our lives. We know how easy and how quickly our normal lives could be a thing of a past. We already lost some of our friends in this war. Other friends lost everything they had; some lost children. But our God is with us and trust in Him is all we have at this point. He will provide for us and take care of us.”

Olena’s prayers are for the war to end as soon as possible, for safety of her son in Ukraine and for all sinners to accept Christ as their personal Savior.

She believes “all of the horrible cruelty and inhumane injustice that is happening is because there is no God in the hearts of the people.”

But she holds to her faith that God is in control. “God is working in the midst of this bloody mess. He is still in control of this conflict even though we don’t understand His ways. We know that both countries, Ukraine and Russia need repentance and need God.”