The first shipping container of clothing arrived in Ukraine, coming from Lima, Ohio, on a snowy, foggy day. Within those 24 hours, dozens of missiles flew over the country. At Vapniarka Church of the Nazarene, a team of volunteers began to unload the boxes of coats, when two missiles flew directly overhead. Church leader Tolik Galagan was momentarily frozen, his eyes growing large in surprise. “I was afraid,” he remembers.
When the war broke out in February 2022, uncertainty filled the hearts and minds of those in the church. What would happen next? Should we stay in Ukraine?
“Many people who were in our church started to ask questions,” Tolik says. “But we prayed, and most of us decided to stay.” Not only did they opt to remain, the church also began providing help to those arriving daily at the nearby station. “In such a crisis,” Tolik says, “we cannot sit as a church. We must do something.”
Uniquely positioned in Ukraine, the tiny town of Vapniarka is a transportation hub for the rest of the country. Trains run through on their way to major cities both domestically and internationally. The Vapniarka Church of the Nazarene began receiving those displaced from around the country, providing shelter and food as often as possible. Thousands of people flooded the city. “So many, many, many people were coming to the church,” Tolik says. “The work was huge.” He was overwhelmed, unsure that he and his congregation were equipped to handle the demand for help.
“At that particular time, it was very tough,” Tolik remembers. “I asked lots of questions.” How am I supposed to help all of these people with so few resources? What will happen to us? “I was not ready for this,” he says. “How can I encourage people when I myself have fear and I don’t know what’s next?”
Tolik’s fear drove him into a closer dependency on God. He found himself spending more and more time tucked away in private prayer. The Lord did not remain silent.
“When I was crying out,” Tolik remembers, “[God] said, ‘I am with you. I will help you. Trust in me; I have left my ambassadors surrounding you.’” Those words became Tolik’s hiding place. “I am standing on that promise,” he says. “That no matter where I will be, He will be with me.”
Soon after, the Lord provided. Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM) contacted Tolik and asked if he would be willing to distribute regular deliveries of humanitarian aid, beginning with food—20 tons of it—every month.
“It was the evidence of what the Lord was speaking to me,” Tolik says. “It was absolutely the answer that the Lord will take care of us, of people.” Shipments began to arrive every few weeks, and Tolik and a team of volunteers at his church would divide up the aid. Some food stayed in Vapniarka, while the rest would be sent into other Ukrainian Nazarene churches, enough to feed 2,000 families each time.
Then, NCM notified Tolik that warm winter clothing was on the way. It would arrive shortly, all the way from Lima, Ohio.
As everyone unloaded clothing on that foggy day, with missiles overhead, Tolik stood frozen in fear. Several volunteers from his church called out to him, reassuring him. “It was like encouragement from the Lord,” Tolik says. Miraculously, they finished unloading the clothing, unharmed.
“God is teaching me first of all to be courageous,” Tolik says. “This is the season when God is teaching me to step out from my comfort zone—to go beyond what I can do myself.”
Once they were finished unloading, the team began distributing the shipment: heavy coats, warm gloves, and thick, fuzzy hats. “People got very excited,” Tolik says. “Can you imagine when you need to run from your home, somewhere else, miles and miles away…with nothing? Even if one person got one jacket, it was a huge blessing. People were crying. They could not believe it.”
Tolik sent a quick text to a friend, snapping photos of the unloading team, safe inside once again. “May every person who receives a piece of clothing be wrapped in God’s protection, mercy, and love!”
– written by Sarah Norris
– photos by Genadiy Naumov