“We desperately need God to show up”

Helping support a family through poverty and war

“No matter how hard I work, the circumstances are always too much.”

Even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, families living in rural areas struggled making a living from small-scale farming. Restrictions on expanding farms dating back to Communist times – and difficulty in securing loans to invest in equipment or improvements – are some of the difficulties farmers face here.

The Stel’makh family – Oleksandr, 38, Nataliya, 30, and their five children – live in a village in Sarny, western Ukraine. Oleksandr inherited the farm from his parents, but it was in poor condition and he had to start it from scratch. Several years ago, he injured his eye and doctors told him he must not do physical labour.

“I don’t care much for that advice – I have five small children to feed,” he said.

They say that those who are born and raised in the village have learned to work hard from a very young age – and that is certainly true of the Stel’makhs. 

With the livestock and poultry to care for, the growing crops to tend, and all the work around the house, every pair of helping hands is needed. At age 11, Stas is the second man of the family after his father, and a hard worker.

Oleksandr said, “Stas is my first-born and my indispensable assistant. I try not to ask him to do too much, but in our situation, we all have to work hard.”

As well as taking care of the family farm, Oleksandr works part time as a common laborer and is paid low wages. The family mainly survives from what they grow on their farm.

They live in a small, one-roomed house in need of repair, with an outside toilet. It is cold outside, with a glorious blanket of snow covering the landscape, and indoors, it is cosy thanks to the wood stove. The room is crowded, and with five lively children inside, it feels busier than ever.

Oleksandr said, “No matter how hard I work, the circumstances are always too much. We have always kept a cow, as she is an excellent nurse. Unfortunately, the two lead cows got sick and died. I looked after and treated the third for a long time and put all my energy into it, but she died too. This is a huge loss, since the cow would have been worth about a thousand dollars.

There is much to trouble the Stel’makhs at the moment: first, the Covid-19 pandemic brought more hardship to a region already marked by high rates of unemployment and poverty – and now, the ongoing war continues to bring untold devastation, trauma and destruction to Ukraine, as well as inflation and an increase in prices. Stas’s youngest sisters, however, fully trust in their parents’ ability to fix any problem and are happy and carefree.  Stas and Lyudmyla, who is nine, however, understand more – and feel a lot of responsibility towards the rest of the family.

“There is no safe place in Ukraine anymore." 

Fortunately, the Stel’makhs don’t have to struggle on alone. Last year they were enrolled on Mission Without Borders’ family sponsorship programme – and since then, they’ve been receiving ongoing material, spiritual and emotional support. MWB’s aim is to help strengthen and empower the family so that they don’t just survive the war and poverty – but they thrive and become all God intends for them. 

This summer, hard-working Stas and Lyudmyla had a wonderful opportunity to go on MWB’s summer camp and have a restful, fun holiday with lots of other children. Just before he went, his father said, “I’m so happy they’re going to summer camp because I want them to be happy and have a rest this summer, just like other children. I am proud of my children and love them dearly.”

It was the first time either of them had been outside the village except for occasional trips to Sarny, the nearest town – and they both had a great time, playing, singing, trying out new activities, hearing Bible lessons and making new friends. They were able to rest physically from the tough farm work, and also rest mentally from the pressure of war. 

Sergiy, the MWB staff member who works with the family, said, “The war affects everyone, even people living in comparably safe parts of the country. There is no safe place in Ukraine anymore. The Russian rockets reach everywhere, and Russia’s purpose is to completely destroy Ukraine, including its people. All they need is territory. 

“The constant attack of the Russian armada causes depression, exhaustion and anger in Ukraine. A lot of soldiers – people’s sons, fathers and brothers – die every day fighting with the aggressor. A lot of people have been wounded and disabled. The economy is shrinking. Most businesses cannot function. It affects everyone – prices get higher, the national currency is devalued.

“The Stel’makh family are Christians. They trust in God and look for comfort at the foot of God’s throne. Also, as well as everyone else in Ukraine, they’re doing everything possible to help Ukraine to victory – praying, donating, helping refugees and all who are in need. This is the reality of our lives now: David against Goliath and we desperately need God to show up.”

With all the hardship that families like the Stel’makhs face, winter brings its extra set of challenges. Winter means less work and a dip in wages, but firewood is expensive, as is warm clothing and footwear for growing children. That’s why MWB supports families and elderly people living in poverty with Operation Winter Rescue – ensuring that families aren’t forced to choose between warmth or food.

The family are thankful for the support, seeing for themselves how even in poverty and war, God provides for them through MWB.

“Thank you to the sponsors – and please pray for peace in Ukraine,” Oleksandr said.

With your support, we can help more families like Oleksandr’s survive – and thrive – through a harsh winter – and even harsher circumstances. Help us share God’s love with families in Ukraine – make a donation today.




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