Texans head to Ukraine border to assist in refugee crisis

As Russia enters the second month of its invasion of Ukraine, Texans continue to pour out support for the war-torn country and its people fleeing from conflict. 

At the Sanctuary Church in Cleveland, Texas, a special prayer goes out for 23-year-old Igor Howard.

"My eyes started filling up with tears, just knowing that I have all this support behind me," he says.

Howard left for Poland Tuesday to help with Ukrainian relief efforts for 90 days, distributing supplies and managing housing for refugees.

"Our entire world is just broken right now, and it's hard to know where you meet needs," says his father and lead pastor, Kevin Howard.
"I think it was just an opportunity presented itself, and we had the means to meet that need," he adds. 
The call to service was suggested by the father who heard about the volunteer need through the non-profit Compassion Services International.  

"What he didn't know at the time, I got to the point where [I thought] ‘the next thing that comes up that's an opportunity to give back, I'm going to say yes," says Igor. "It was 30-45 seconds later I got a call from my dad asking about Poland."

The Texas A&M graduate is one of many representing the state overseas in relief efforts. For at least five months, the organization Texas Baptist Men has committed to deploying waves of volunteers, moving supplies through Poland and Ukraine, and supporting shelters caring for more than 50,000 refugees.

"Our volunteers are serving roughly 15 miles from the Ukrainian border," says spokesman John Hall.

"It's their first place of safety and security that they've experienced in some time after a harrowing journey across the border, and so in that place, we can offer them a warm meal, a place to sleep."

He adds that the volunteers are doing labor-intensive, "grimy" work to assist. "Literally mopping floors, sweeping, washing bedsheets, they're flipping beds- they're willing to do it, and they do it with joy because they know it makes a difference in these folks' lives."

Back at the Sanctuary in Cleveland, Minister Greg Crow landed half an hour before the Howard's Zoom interview after traveling from Romania where he crossed into Ukraine with vans loaded with food and medical supplies.

"One pastor who was displaced said, ‘More importantly is the fact that we know you guys are there for us," recalls Crow.

He has a few words of wisdom for Igor and anyone heading out to help.
"Playing with the kids, spending time with families...it's all the little things that add up," he explains.

As for Igor, the new recruit plans to return with new connections, a new language, and hopes people back home remember Ukrainians, beyond the first weeks of conflict.

"Keep them in your hearts; keep praying for them. This is years of their lives thrown away, and they don't have a place to look back to," says Igor.

For more information on missions to Ukraine, visit https://www.compassionservices.org/ and Texas Baptist Men at https://www.tbmtx.org/.