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Avdiivka. When a peaceful life seems like a pipe dream

Avdiivka on fire

Avdiivka has been a front-line city since 2014 due to its close proximity to Donetsk (about 10 km). Active hostilities were fought here from 2014 to 2017, then there was a period of calm, when, it would seem, peaceful life began to settle, but in 2022 the war flared up with even greater force. Despite numerous attempts by Russia to "take" the city, Avdiivka remains under Ukrainian control.

From the very beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion, Avdiivka has been subjected to massive shelling, the population has decreased from more than 35 thousand people to 3 thousand. The remaining people are forced to cook food on fires and literally live in basements, hiding from shelling.

Civil infrastructure under attack

Now the city is recovering from extremely turbulent recent nights. On the night of June 21, the invaders fired at one of the Avdeevka schools with phosphorus shells from the Grad MLRS. As a result, the school building burned down halfway. Prior to the shelling, a humanitarian aid headquarters was located in the school to distribute water, food and medicine to the civilian population. All humanitarian aid was burned.

Andrii, one of the participants of the humanitarian ministry of AMBCU, comes from Avdiivka and is a graduate of the burned school. He tells:

“Some schoolchildren dream, without thinking about the consequences, that their school will burn down or explode, but when you see with your own eyes a video where your own school is on fire, there is no laughing matter at all. I was shaken up as I was watching the video on the news feed of a fire dancing and crackling on the roof of my school. 9 years of my life passed in this school, here I was taught to count, write and read, and now only memories of this remain. I used to think that I would graduate from school and in my free time I would go to visit my teachers, but now all this is crossed out.”

Avdiivka School No. 6 graduated more than one generation of students in its history. Before the start of the Russian invasion, more than 800 people studied here.

This is the third school that the occupiers burned to the ground in Avdiivka.

In addition to the school, a nearby residential area was also hit by incendiary shells, where a fire broke out in apartment buildings.

In addition to schools, the city hospital, coking plant, shopping centers and shops are continuously shelled. Residents of the city are regularly injured or killed as a result of shelling.

The platform for the ministry

Since 2015, AMBCU has organized many projects for children, youth and teachers in Avdiivka. In the course of their implementation, the need for spiritual rebirth of the inhabitants of the Donetsk region became obvious. Thus, in 2015, the Mennonite Church was founded in Avdiivka by the ministers of the AMBCU.

One of the projects that was carried out on the basis of the church was a training center for youth called Real School, which was regularly attended by more than 50 young people from the frontline city.

The idea was to conduct self-development trainings for schoolchildren and students that would be useful for young people, and would also help to popularize the Christian way of life among the younger generation through the living testimonies of Christian coaches.

The Real School training center has gained popularity among urban youth. There were almost no young people left in the city who did not know about the existence of the center. This was achieved through the implementation of a number of projects for youth and teachers in cooperation with the city authorities. School No. 6 was also one of those schools the ministers collaborated with.

“In addition to Christian ethics, a number of projects were carried out at the school No. 6, such as “Gift of Hope”, “Time to Live” and Real School. It is incredibly mournful a place with which so many memories and so much Christian work are associated has been destroyed. I identify this school with fertile soil from one of the parables of the New Testament, - Andrei shares. - A lot of Christian work was invested in this soil, and it brought many fruits: more than a thousand students and teachers learned about God thanks to the service of the AMBCU. However, the war has turned this beautiful soil into scorched earth, into a wasteland that can no longer be useful. But I sincerely believe that it is in God’s power to build something new on the ruins of the old.”

More than a training center

In the winter of 2017, hostilities escalated and the building of the church and training center served as a heating point where people could eat, charge their phones and keep warm. Thanks to the relationship built with the youth, many of them willingly helped in the heating point, which only strengthened the relationship between the team and the youth.

Soon enough, the project went beyond the walls of the training center and grew into live communication and true friendship between the Real School team and the youth. Bible study has replaced self-development trainings: for this, the team invited the youth to their home or arranged picnics.

In the summer, during the vacations of the training center, Christians did not stop communicating with the youth and organized trips to camps and kayaking along the rivers of Ukraine.

Now youth meetings are not held, because the vast majority of young people left Avdiivka due to the constant shelling of the city and the lack of any communications.

The Real School training center has become an excellent platform for building relationships with urban youth and sowing evangelical principles into the hearts of young people, some of whom continue to lead a Christian lifestyle and are members of evangelical churches to this day.

Avdiivka needs help

Even if the economically developed countries of the world feel the serious consequences of the war in Ukraine and the threat of a major humanitarian crisis, it is no wonder people in Avdiivka can hardly make ends meet, surviving under incessant shelling.

However, at his own risk, Sergei, one of the founders of the church in Avdiivka, continues to support its members by bringing essential supplies and iCare food packages to Avdiivka. “Many people do not even want to leave the bomb shelters because of the fear of shelling, so we ourselves go down to the people,” says Sergey. “But people are not starving, thanks to the help we bring. In Avdiivka and other front-line cities, it is needed and used for its intended purpose,” he adds.

Now Avdiivka, like the whole of Ukraine, is going through the darkest time in its history. Almost the entire working-age population left the city after a full-scale invasion due to the lack of living conditions. A large plant that provided the city with heat and jobs stopped working. The city is now literally on the verge of desolation.

“Even in wartime, more than thirty people gather in church for prayer time,” Sergei says.

But what can the church do to help the people of Avdiivka, for whom the former world burned down like the school No. 6? Unfortunately, there is no universal solution. We can help those who left start the life from scratch in another, safer place, following the example of the AMBCU hubs, which were organized by refugee Christians from different parts of Ukraine. That is why one of the AMBCU ministries is the evacuation of the civilian population.

It is necessary to support in every possible way those who refuse to leave Avdiivka, because there are still a large number of elderly people who may be afraid they will not endure a long trip.

“Even if the city is occupied, we will not stop trying to help the church and the residents of Avdiivka,” says the director of the AMBCU.

Even in a seemingly hopeless situation, it makes absolute sense to help people, because each person is a unique creation of God and is dear to Him, like sheep to a shepherd.

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