The war in Ukraine has resulted in the largest refugee crisis since World War II. The UN Refugee Agency reports that more than seven million Ukrainians have been displaced within their country, and an additional seven million displaced across borders. The coming winter will only increase the already vast humanitarian needs, as well.
Just in the last month, more than 70,000 residents from the Kherson city area were told to evacuate before Ukrainian forces attacked Russia’s hold on the southern city. Both sides appear to be digging in for prolonged fighting.
When the war first began over eight months ago, most Ukrainians only expected to be away from home for a few weeks. Just a few weeks ago, they dreamed of being home by winter, hoping Russia’s onslaught would have ceased by then. Now, however, due to recent drone attacks, seven regions of Ukraine – including Kyiv – are now basically disconnected from electricity, which means no water or Internet connection and very little satellite access. Because of the infrastructure destruction, Kyiv authorities are considering evacuating the remaining 3 million residents, and the Ministry of International Affairs has asked Ukrainians abroad not to return home until the end of the cold season (April).
Daria, a Ukrainian citizen and director for EEM (Eastern European Mission) in Ukraine, is temporarily staying in Vienna with her mother and daughter. She knows that her apartment in Kyiv, which is on the lower level of a tall building, hasn’t been directly impacted by the bombs; usually, they only affect the top floors of multi-story structures. Yet, the risk is too great for her to return quite yet. She deeply misses her home, her friends and fellow believers in Kyiv.
Daria is not alone. As the war drags on, some refugees have chosen to return to Ukraine, but many others face the discouraging realization that they will not be going home soon, if they have homes to return to at all. Like Daria, some of them know their homes are intact, but as Russian airstrikes continue over the nation’s major cities, many Ukrainians wouldn’t feel safe yet.
So, they’re biding their time, waiting for the end of a war that shows no signs of ending soon, longing for home and holding tightly to their last bit of hope. “We just want to go home,” they say.
Displaced families were warmly welcomed to stay in various people’s homes across Poland, Moldova, Germany and other European countries, in expectation that it would be for a short time. But with the war lasting so long, some hosts are uncomfortably ready to tell their guests it’s time to move on. And for the Ukrainians’ part, no one wants to feel like the relative who overstays their welcome. They miss the comforts of their own homes, their privacy, their routines and their community of friends and family.
Citizens of Heaven
Displaced. A stranger among many. Longing for home. The plight of the refugees offers a spiritual parallel for believers who are longing for their heavenly home. We are but sojourners in this world, temporary residents, awaiting a heavenly city as described in Hebrews 11:13-16:
“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”
I’ll never forget the moment about ten years ago when my mother-in-law reminded me of our beautiful citizenship in heaven. While battling liver cancer, she had to travel back and forth to a treatment center several hours away. After suffering too many ill effects from chemotherapy, she opted to stay in a rehabilitation center in her hometown for a bit. She kept telling her family members, “I just want to go home.” Naturally, they assumed that she meant her house in the same town, but she was referring to her Heavenly home. She was ready to be with Jesus.
Home is a special place for all of us, but for those of us who are believers, we have the hope of our eternal home to look forward to. As sojourners, we realize that we’re not of this world. We’re displaced but full of hope for a sweet eternal home with the Lord.
Philippians 3:20 tell us, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” The promise of our Heavenly citizenship leaves us in a state of “not yet,” but we know that our names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and we have a future of eternal security as citizens in the heavenly city.
When we feel like strangers in this world, let us never forget the promises found in John 14:1-2: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?”
As we look forward one day to entering our heavenly homes, won’t you join me in praying for our Ukrainian friends, that they can return to their earthly homes soon? And that, meanwhile, they’ll have the peace and hope of their heavenly homes to sustain them.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christina Headlines.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Sandsun
Bob Burckle is President of Eastern European Mission, which has been delivering God’s Word to the people of Eastern Europe since 1961, now reaching 32 countries in 25 languages. They provided 1.5 million Bibles and Bible-based materials free of charge in the region in 2021, including in public schools in Croatia, Romania and Ukraine, with requests for even more in 2022. Learn more at www.eem.org.