Ukraine: “One minute we’re in school, the next we’re running for our lives”
Nigerians fleeing Ukraine welcomed by students and faculty of Hungary’s Theological Institute
(LWI) - In Budapest, the Theological Institute of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary (ELCH) now provides accommodation for twenty-year-old medical student Emmanuel and others who have fled from the fighting in neighboring Ukraine. The Nigerian national, who had studied in Ukraine since 2018, is among a group of refugees receiving support from the church in Hungary.
Emmanuel was studying at Ternopil National Medical University when it became clear that he and his friend Ruth had to flee: “One minute we’re going to school, the next we’re running for our lives.” Now, Emmanuel and Ruth are among a group of 10 Nigerians hosted at the Theological Institute, where students and faculty have warmly welcomed them.
As the conflict in Ukraine escalated, people of African descent were widely reported to have struggled at the Ukrainian border, facing discrimination and even being denied the chance to cross into neighboring countries. However, Emmanuel says he and Ruth were fortunate enough not to experience any such issues along the way. “I can only thank God. It was like God had placed people along the way to help us in our journey,” Emmanuel says.
ELCH presiding bishop Tamás Fabiny welcomed twenty-year-old medical student Emmanuel from Nigeria, who recently fled Ukraine.
One of those people, Emmanuel says, was Lutheran World Federation (LWF) President Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa. He had heard of Emmanuel and the other Nigerian students fleeing to Hungary from one of the people in his church in Nigeria. “It was Archbishop Musa who reached out to us to say there is a group of Nigerian students who have fled to Hungary. Can you find them, can you help them?” explains Tamás Fabiny, ELCH presiding bishop, who is personally engaged in receiving the refugees.
“When I heard that the students were here, I came here. I didn’t come as a bishop; I came here as a person, as a Christian who wanted to see who they are,” Fabiny reflects. “We now need to sustain this willingness to help. We will probably need to support refugees here for a long time,” Fabiny said. “One example is our work with and through Hungarian Interchurch Aid, setting up support centers inside Ukraine. We need to increase our professional capacity to keep this going.”
LWF is stepping up its support for member churches in in the region that are in the forefront of providing emergency and longer-term support for the refugees. As of the end of March, almost 4 million people had fled from Ukraine, most of them women and children who were forced to leave male members of their families behind. LWF is working to set up a regional coordination hub that can strengthen the capacity of local churches and their diaconal organizations, recognizing the way that religious organizations are best placed to assess and respond to the needs of the refugees and host communities.
Written by Albin Hillert. All photos: LWF/Albin Hillert
LWF's is coordinating a response through its member churches in Ukraine and the neighboring countries to ensure support to Ukrainian refugees as well as their safe and dignified arrival. The work is supported by LWF's funding partners, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.