Kateryna Oliferovski was completing a church internship in Dortmund, Germany, when the war in her Ukrainian homeland began. She is still there.
“It was supposed to be a short mission trip,” Kateryna explained. “I felt that God was sending me to Germany, to serve the church and help bring the light of the Gospel. Then suddenly, I could not leave.”
She called her parents when the invasion was imminent, wanting to fly home right away. Instead, she was told to stay where she was, which was not easy for her to accept. When all flights were cancelled, it was like a door closing in her face. Before long, there would be thousands feeling this same sense of loss, being sent away to other countries
for their own safety.
Her parents, Maxym and Anya, said they were going to remain in their city of Zaporizhzhia for as long as they could, together with other staff from the New Hope Center, a ministry to families in crisis that was, they knew, about to encompass a crisis beyond comprehension.
“I didn’t want them to stay,” Kateryna said. “Then I remembered that when I was small, my mom and dad never forced me to do anything. They let me make my own decisions. This is their decision. But it is hard.”
This is not the first time that Kateryna has spent a significant time away from home. At age twenty, she sensed God sending her to Canada for one year of service with Mennonite Central Committee. During that year, her parents were also in Canada, but in a different province, going through FOCUS training with Multiply. They were at least able to spend a few weeks together in British Columbia and, knowing that her parents were in the same country and that their time apart was temporary, made Kateryna’s homesickness easier to bear.
“Now it is different,” she said. “When will we be together? I try not to think about the future. I can think only about today. This moment, today, they are safe. Okay. Today is good.”
Waves of loneliness hit her at random moments. Seeing children playing in Dortmund, she misses her work with children at the New Hope Center in Ukraine. She sees spring flowers and misses the hills of her hometown. She sees people on the street and misses seeing the people of Zaporizhzhia strolling along leisurely and chatting in coffee shops. “They are not doing that now.”
“Oh, and I miss teatime,” she added, suddenly brighter. “Every evening, dad makes it for us. He calls me, ‘Katya! Come for tea!’ and offers me a choice: chamomile, which mom likes, or black, which he likes.” She smiled.
“Sometimes he would leave it for me in a thermos, if I was going to be coming home late.” The smile faded as she remembered the taste, wondering when she would have tea with them again.
Kateryna knows that her parents want her to stay in Germany, but she has struggled at times to find meaning in still being there. Her sense of mission is re-emerging since she accepted a job working with Ukrainian refugee children at a local school. She hopes her training as an art therapist will help children process the trauma of being
“I know how they feel,” she said. “At first you feel guilty. It feels unfair to be here, safe and fed, while back in Ukraine they are scared, hiding. It feels really wrong. It feels wrong to even be happy.”
This tension was very present when she heard that other refugees from a neighboring church in Molochansk were soon to arrive in Germany. At first Kateryna felt happy and excited at the prospect of seeing some of her friends. Then she felt anxious.
“When I found out my best friend was coming with this group, I was almost afraid to see her,” Kateryna admitted. “How would we be? What would we talk about? She was not coming to have some fun adventure, but to be a refugee. When I finally met her, it felt so strange to see her in this context. Suddenly, the war was real, not just images on a screen.” In the end, the two friends embraced, drawing strength from a grief shared. Together, they have also found courage to dream again about the future.
“Next to the little cabin outside of the city where my parents are sheltering,” Kateryna said, “there is a plot of land. My mom and dad talk about building there when the war is over. A restoration and recovery center, where traumatized people can come and be in nature. I really want that. I want to go back. I want it more now because I know that I cannot go back. I want to go and restore what is broken.”
Recently, Kateryna posted a photo of herself to social media, standing in a field of purple flowers in Germany. Under the photo, she wrote, “During war, smiles seem inappropriate. Beautiful places seem to be a reason for envy… I would like to have this beauty, not only for a moment, but always. I would like to enjoy the sun on my native land, fully confident about tomorrow. But I only have this moment. A state of calm that sometimes I can’t explain. It’s not permanent.”
“But when it fills me,” she said, “hope comes into my heart.”
Please pray for Kateryna in Germany and for her parents, Maxym and Anya Oliferovski, in Ukraine, where they have converted the New Hope Center into a shelter for refugees. Staff and volunteers who have chosen to stay behind are caring for the traumatized and helping those who are on a journey to safety across the border.
For recent updates about Multiply’s response to the war in Ukraine, including
prayer requests and giving opportunities, go to multiply.net/ukraine-in-crisis
To read more about Max and Anya’s response to the war in Ukraine, go to multiply.net/story/a-healing-ear