Local pastor helps Ukraine refugees

A Ukranian child carries his belongings as he waits to find a new home safe from war. LWF/ALBIN HILLERT

WAYNESBORO—Helping children and youth will be the focus of upcoming efforts by a Waynesboro pastor who recently returned from a humanitarian mission to assist refugees from war-torn Ukraine.

“I want to give them a sense of normalcy,” explained Rev. Drahus Oslik in his remarks to those gathered April 3 to hear details and view slides of his trip to his home country of Slovakia, which borders Ukraine. The program was held in Evangelical Lutheran Church of Waynesboro, where Oslik serves as associate pastor.

“We will work with children who are there, offer them counseling and things like camps, where they can meet new friends, experience a joyful and caring Christian environment, and realize that they are cared for, welcomed and loved,” added Oslik, who is looking for an organization to partner with and hopes to make more trips to Slovakia.

Oslik described what he saw during his 16 days of service as “horrifying. You almost can’t believe it’s happening.” Many of the photos shown during the presentation were taken by Albin Hillert, a reporter hired by Lutheran World Federation. “I traveled with him for two days visiting congregations in Slovakia that are hosting refugees.

“I wish I could say there will be peace next week,” said Oslik as he reflected on his emotional encounters with the refugees. The United Nations estimates 5 million people have fled Ukraine (population over 40 million) since the war began in February, according to Oslik. A total of 300,000 fled to Slovakia (population 5 million), with 50,850 of those applying for temporary protection. “They plan to stay,” Oslik said. “Many of them have nowhere to get back to. Their houses and cities are gone. Our work will continue. We’ll do what we can do.”

Oslik said his efforts were concentrated in Vysne Nemecke, working under the direction of the Ecumenical Pastoral Service of the Ministry of Interior of the Slovak Republic and Diakon of Slovak Lutheran Church. “It’s hard to describe the team of leaders and volunteers I worked with. They were fearless, dedicated, absolutely incredible. They worked around the clock. Some days 10,000 people crossed the border. Over 90 percent were women with children. It was heartbreaking,” added Oslik as he showed photos of children clutching the small stuffed animals that were given to them along with snacks and beverages. “It was something they could hold onto, a distraction.

“Some of these people had traveled for five days. The first thing they asked for was sleep and a shower,” he said.

An 11-year-old boy showed up by himself and he had a phone number written on his hand of people in Slovakia. We were able to locate the family and they picked him up at the border. That sends chills … and he wasn’t the only one,” added Oslik.

Oslik also drove a van to transport refugees and warned them not to accept rides from anyone other than authorized personnel amidst reports of sex trafficking and organ harvesting. “Can you imagine getting in a van with someone you’ve never met?”

Spending time with the refugees – sharing a meal, playing ping pong, and talking about music, etc. – was a rewarding part of his work, Oslik said. “We had fun. It was incredible to have that opportunity. It was kids, kids, kids, everywhere. I felt God’s presence, so much joy.

“You feel the protection when you have so many people praying for you,” said Oslik, as he thanked all those who supported his efforts. “I’m looking forward to a new partnership and you’re all a part of that.”

Those interested in helping with the effort can donate via check made to Evangelical Lutheran Church of Waynesboro, PA, with Ukrainian Refugees Fund in the memo line or at www.elchome.org through the Give Online link at the bottom of the home page by selecting Ukrainian Refugees Fund.

The Rev. Drahus Oslik, associate pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Church of Waynesboro, spoke about his trip to his home country of Slovakia, which borders Ukraine, April 3. NANCY MACE/FOR LOCAL NEWS
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