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The perspective of receiving countries

There are opportunities for churches as they welcome Ukrainians into their midst, many of whom come from evangelical backgrounds.

VISTA JOURNAL AUTOR 78/Jo_Appleton 06 DE DICIEMBRE DE 2022 09:30 h
A volunteer holding a sign to guide refugees at Berlin's rail station. / [link]Leo Lenz[/link], Wikipedia.

As refugees from Ukraine arrived into European countries following the invasion of Ukraine, institutions at all levels responded.

For the first time since its adoption 2001, the European Union triggered a ‘temporary protection directive’, described as a ‘exceptional measure to provide immediate and temporary protection in the event of a mass influx or imminent mass influx of displaced persons from non-EU countries who are unable to return to their country of origin.” [1]

Other countries such as the UK, Denmark and non-EU member states of Schengen also quickly put in place similar schemes. [2]

Alongside the legal frameworks enabling people to enter and stay in a country, many governments asked local residents to open their homes to Ukrainian refugees on a temporary basis.

Other benefits, not normally afforded so quickly to asylum seekers from other countries, included access to employment, education and jobs.


The response of churches

In late February, many of the international Christian  ecumenical or denominational organisations released statements calling for the conflict to end and a call to prayer. [3]

The Conference of European Churches (CEC) raised the issue of the church’s humanitarian response at the European Parliament in July [4] and some denominational networks such as the European Baptist Federation continue to hold regular pan-European online prayer meetings.[5]

And elsewhere in this edition of Vista, you can read about Christian Ukraine Collaboration, a platform that emerged in the weeks following the invasion to encourage pan-European communication and collaboration in responding to the refugee crisis.

At the other end of the spectrum, individual Christians, churches and mission organisations responded in many different ways, for example as Daniel Zimmerman from Forum Wiedenest in Germany explains:

“A few churches will have given financial support in one or another way. Many churches took part in Humanitarian Aid Transports. Activities involved organising their own transports through personal contacts, collecting clothing and other necessities, and offering their church buildings as hubs for collecting the goods.I think most churches somehow got involved with Ukrainians in their area and many collaborated in ways they had not done before. They helped by handing out clothing, food, and other supplies of daily need. They held services for Ukrainians, either by translating content or having a separate service. They started programs for Ukrainians, often language courses, Kids programs, or Cafes.”

A Ukrainian who has lived in Spain for more than 20 years observes, “The response of the Spanish churches has been exemplary in every sense. Aid was offered according to the needs of each moment, and today, after 6 months, it continues to be important, although not as intense as at the beginning.”

And Sue Butler from Welcome churches in the UK agrees; “Churches have leapt at the opportunity to welcome Ukrainians in their communities, not only as individual hosts, but many churches have become the focal points for support groups, meet-ups and job support.

It has been an opportunity for churches in areas where there have not traditionally been large numbers of refugees to join in with proactively welcoming those seeking safety in the UK.”

Creating networks of support

As days have turned into weeks and now months, a level of coordination between Christian organisations and churches in countries has emerged, although a larger scale coordinated effort which takes more time but could be more efficient has yet to happen.

Many of the offers of support have grown out of existing networks for example the UK Welcome Churches network already trained, equipped, and supported churches across the UK to welcome refugees and people seeking asylum from all backgrounds in their location.

“Over 1000 people from local churches have attended our Welcome Ukraine training which includes information about current good practice for helping those newly arriving in the UK as well as information about Ukrainian culture, food and churches,” explains Sue Butler.

“We also have organised online Trauma Awareness training to equip churches and help them think through how they can better understand and be helpful to those suffering from trauma and stress.”

Some networks have also compiled online information for Ukrainians arriving in their country, with information in Ukrainian, Russian, English or a local language. This typically includes useful information about the country and local services and links to churches:

“Over 35,000 people have accessed the Welcome Churches site [6], with 15% still in Poland or Ukraine”, Sue comments.


Challenges and opportunities ahead

While many people arriving from Ukraine since February plan to return, the prolonged duration of the war means that this is not possible yet. Short term crisis solutions will not be enough, and many churches and networks are involved in creating a longer term response.

In August, the Spanish government’s emergency reception programme ended three months ahead of schedule due to falling numbers of people arriving. Spanish NGO organisation Diaconía España had worked with the Government to provide short term accommodation.

“We have now opened long-stay places to continue looking after those who were in our emergency resources,” explains Conchi Gutiérrez, Director of Diaconía España. “No Ukrainian refugee who has been sheltered by the Government in the resources provided through the Diaconía and the 19 NGOs that are part of the Shelter System will remain homeless”.

However in the UK, the official Homes4Ukraine scheme only required a six month commitment to host Ukrainian guests, although this could be extended.

Some Ukrainians have found it difficult to find work, perhaps due to having young children at home or lack of proficiency in the language, and having the money to privately rent property may be difficult.

With the hosting arrangement coming to an end for many, there is a worrying increase in the number of Ukrainians facing homelessness

According to Sue Butler, Welcome Churches are speaking directly to councils across the UK and encouraging the church community to step up as emergency hosts for these families.

Other ongoing challenges may be financial, as churches who have given sacrificially to support the humanitarian response now struggle with longer-term financial support, particularly as the cost of living for their members continues to rise.

But there are opportunities for churches as they welcome Ukrainians into their midst, many of whom come from evangelical backgrounds.

As a Ukrainian living in Spain observes: “Despite the difficulties, they are active in service, they integrate easily into congregational life, with a clear vocation to give testimony to Jesus Christ where they live, mostly in places of welcome that have nothing to do with local evangelicals”.

And reflecting on the long-term implications of the movement of Ukrainians across Europe, Daniel Zimmerman adds:

“From a political point of view western countries like Germany need qualified workers, so they will be trying to keep them, while Ukraine will desperately need its workforce back to rebuild at some point hopefully. On a more personal level I think that the consequences of this war will be felt on many levels and for a long time. For Ukrainians, the level of trauma they have to deal with is immense. For the people of other European countries there will be a price to be paid as well. The question remains: How may peace come in our countries but also in our hearts?”

Jo Appleton is one of the founding editors of Vista

This article was first published in the Vista Journal number 42 (November 2022) and re-published with permission



  1. EU invokes Temporary Protection Directive to help those fleeing Ukraine | European Website on Integration (europa.eu) Temporary protection (europa.eu)

  2. New Danish law for those fleeing Ukraine mirrors EU Temporary Protection Directive | European Website on Integration (europa.eu) Q&A: The UK and the Ukraine refugee situation - Migration Observatory - The Migration Observatory (ox.ac.uk)

  3. Statement on Ukraine - EEA (europeanea.org)

  4. Churches highlight their humanitarian response to Ukraine at European Parliament | CEC (ceceurope.org)

  5. Ukraine | EBF

  6. Ukraine Welcome - Welcome Churches




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