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  • Writer's pictureNery Duarte

Kyiv, Ukraine; April 15/22

Updated: Apr 30, 2022

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

I have one more week in Ukraine before I return to Costa Rica and I am planning a number of stopovers: New York, Toronto, Northern British Columbia, Alberta, LA, and Miami. I intend to return to Ukraine during the month of June before attending my daughter, Andrea’s wedding late celebration in the Netherlands. In July, Andrea, her husband, Joshua, his parents, our dog, Coca, and I plan to travel to Costa Rica and then I am off to Venezuela for the second Bible prison conference. That is the plan, however, things may indeed change in a world that has certainly changed.

I am currently stationed in a Baptist church in the heart of the city, Kyiv. This church has been able to put together a very professional response team supported by a Canadian pastor with both medical and military background. (We both graduated from Tyndale.) This church has an amazing ministry involving rescuing and hosting families from “occupied’ territories, providing assistance to 400 displaced children and delivering medical supplies to the front lines. My assignments can vary from one day to the next. One day I travelled with a family throughout the city of Kyiv, delivering medical supplies to elderly and disabled people. Other days, travelling to the cities of Bucha and Irpin, two cities which were the last holdout before the Russian army entered into Kyiv. The destruction that both cities suffered is indescribable. I am currently helping to condition a bomb shelter for 150 people in addition to participating in a training given by two former US marines on medical war assistance. Needless to say, the need for this type of training here is real. Yesterday a woman suffered an amputation of her lower leg. One of my classmates was able to save her life by using the skills learned just the day before.

Kyiv. It feels like the city is just waking up from a long nightmare. Businesses and shops are just beginning to reopen. Navigating throughout the city requires someone with a vast knowledge of the city since many streets are still protected with anti tank defenses. Around Kyiv the cities of Irpin and Bucha were the two communities that suffered the most during this invasion and were left with countless destroyed apartment buildings and blocks and blocks of burned down businesses and neighborhoods. I lost count of the number of military vehicles destroyed or simply abandoned. My partner found a destroyed tank with one dead soldier still inside. I was impressed at how poorly maintained and seemingly old some of the military equipment left standing were. One of the tanks left behind still had its ammunition inside. The person guiding us asked me if I wanted to take one of the unexploded devices as a souvenir, but I quickly figured out that such a keepsake would not be welcome on a plane…. During our walk beside a home that had been hit with a mortar, we encountered a makeshift, abandoned grave. It was only deep enough for one person who appeared to be a child, judging by the mattress, a child’s winter jacket and a wooden makeshift cross with a necklace left behind. Perhaps the most shocking sight was when we walked along a street in Bucha and came across a line of at least twenty civilian vehicles either burned up or filled with bullet holes. It appeared that it had been a travelling caravan caught in a crossfire. Each destroyed car seemed to tell its own story: a pickup truck which still had fresh produce inside, one van totally covered with bullet holes with a large hand painted sign with the word “Children” on the front, another car packed with books and family keepsakes. The list goes on... Right in the middle of this surreal scene lay the remains of perhaps the culprit of this tragedy, a destroyed Russian helicopter. Along the way, I encountered a military jacket. It had a Ukrainian flag sewed on it with dried up blood stains along plenty of what appeared to be bullet holes. I grabbed the jacket and carefully searched the pocket in case it still had some sort of ID, but to no avail. Then I carefully folded it and put it back on the ground giving my respects to the man or the woman that most likely had died wearing that jacket. This morning a member of my team rushed to me outside where I was picking up a couple of winter jackets covered with blood stains and bullet holes as I was trying to nicely fold them and set them aside as a way of showing respect for those who most likely lost their lives. One team member said, “We have to go, we have no time.” The words, “There is time for everything under the sun…” came to my mind. However, I quickly understood that at that moment there was no time to mourn…

One night while having supper, at least ten people walked into the makeshift eating hall. They all looked exhausted and in desperate need of a shower. “They were rescued from the city of Mariupol”, said the lady who was very kindly serving them dinner. What impressed me about them was the great variety of people in the group, from an elderly man with difficulty walking to a couple of children. The drastic difference in the clothing the group was wearing was also a reminder that this war has affected the rich and the poor alike… “Can you give the group some welcoming words?” the lady asked me through an interpreter. I breathed deeply as I had no words in my mind. I asked myself, “What can I say to such a group of people with so many obvious differences?”. This is what came to my mind to share.

“When I was in Guatemala during the peak of the civil war, I was seventeen years old and ended up in a prison cell for a few days. This prison cell was packed with at least forty men and was so crowded that no one could even sit. After what appeared to be endless hours, my legs started to feel weak and cramped as I was starting to faint. In one of the corners there was an old man who was the only one allowed to have a wooden bench which he used to sleep on. Sometime at dawn he looked at me and seeing my fainting condition, moved with compassion, he shared with me the only possession he had with him - his bench… I will never forget the feeling of relief I felt when I sat down after so many hours of standing up.”

I said to them, “The act of kindness of that old man changed the course of my life forever…”


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