A Ukrainian Refugee Christmas Away from Home

Ten months ago, Russia began wreaking havoc in Ukraine, displacing many Ukrainians into surrounding countries and beyond. With emotions running high and uncertainty still in the air, this Christmas season will undoubtedly present its own set of significant and hard challenges and change. Together, let’s meet some of these brave refugees currently in Romania as they reveal how they’ll be embracing this year’s holiday season.

First, let’s meet Holly – a global worker currently serving in Craiova, Romania. She serves specifically in the refugee ministry, translating when needed and visiting regularly with the refugees. Listening to, praying for, and serving the Ukrainian refugees has built trust, making space for them to comfortably and openly share their unique outlooks on Christmas with Holly – and with us!

While it is true that some don’t even know which country they’ll be in come Christmas – never mind what they’ll do to celebrate – there are some, like Olga, Nastya, Marina, Liudmila, and Anna, who are considering their options and still plan to commemorate the holiday.

Olga, from Nikolaev, is presently in Romania with her son. With an aching soul and longing to be back home, she still plans to celebrate. “To keep up the traditions, to remember home and loved ones, we’re going to prepare the twelve dishes: Kutia from wheat, with poppy seeds, nuts, honey, raisins, prunes, and varenyky and cabbage rolls with bacon. It’s all shared with family, but this time it’s just me and my son. Of course, we’ll have a video call with relatives, but we [won’t] show them our table, because in Ukraine they won’t have what we have.”

Nastya, from Mariupol, shares what a typical Christmas once looked like: “We always cooked delicious food and chose which [Christmas] movie to watch. We watched the president’s address and lit sparklers at midnight.” She continues, “We don’t know how it will be this year, but we plan to celebrate… We’ll cook something delicious and maybe we’ll celebrate with the neighbours.”

Liudmila, also from Mariupol, says: “Before the war, I celebrated the New Year with my family at night. We cooked a lot of different foods, of course, watched on TV the congratulations from the president and New Year’s concerts. We gave gifts to relatives.” This year, with her granddaughter and great-grandson, she plans simply to go to church and have a meal at home on January 6th.

“We’ll celebrate with our family, with the children,” Marina, from Nikolaev, starts: “If it’s possible to have a Christmas tree, we’ll put some small presents under it… We’ll cook something tasty, better than our everyday food, and that’s how we’ll celebrate.” Alongside her sister, daughter, and two-year-old grandson, Marina continues: “Home is home. It’s sad, of course. It’s a joyful holiday, and we will have some kind of joy too, but a little bit of sadness also because it isn’t home.” 

“We’re here where it’s calm and quiet, but my heart and soul are still in Ukraine, where there is bombing and destruction, where life is no longer the way it was before. Everything is different now,” Olga somberly confesses. As a new believer, she continues: “I’m thankful to God for everything He does for me, that He holds me, shelters me, and protects me. I’m thankful to God for all the people [who have helped me].”

Anna sums up the hope of Christmas in the midst of conflict: “War, yes, it affects things. I’m not going to celebrate [the same way] this year, but Christmas is a glorious holiday — the star shone; Jesus was born… Of course, it will be different this year, but it’s not about the food or other things. It’s about the heart and what you think about God and how you worship Him.” Anna goes on to say: “I miss my brother, my church, my pastor, the sisters [in Christ] who have stayed even through the bombings… It’s a different place with different people, but the holiday is the same – still the most important thing.”

Those serving in the Romanian church endeavour to bless these displaced individuals this Christmas season. “We’re doing a few Christmas outreach activities with the refugees here in Craiova,” Holly explains. “One is a card making workshop, which will include a message from the Bible. A GEM colleague [will also be] providing Christmas gifts for all the refugee kids we work with. Lastly, we’re planning to hold a Russian language Christmas service for the refugees on January 6 – Orthodox Christmas – that will hopefully include some small gift bags for the attending families.”

Although their hearts are with their homes in Ukraine, it is heartwarming to hear that many still plan to celebrate, and that there are people in position to offer them a little more cheer this holiday season. Please pray that Ukrainian refugees will embrace the hope of Jesus as they mark Christmas this year. May you also experience the hope and joy that Christmas brings and help spread it to those who may need it. Merry Christmas!

*Some names have been changed for privacy.