Eastern Europe in the face of war: an aid worker's diary

Fresh supplies ready for distribution among refugees.(Photo: Feed the Hungry)

I have just returned home from a short trip to eastern Europe in my role working for the aid agency Feed The Hungry. The trip has been full-on and an emotional rollercoaster; from feeling the pain of those suffering trauma and loss, to seeing churches and communities working together across all sectors of life, denominations, and cultural backgrounds.

I decided to keep a diary to keep track of all we were seeing and experiencing and to give me a chance to process an experience that has been unique in my many years of aid work.


Having jumped on the plane in Luton at some ridiculous hour of the morning, my colleague Gavin and I landed in Suceava (northeast Romania, near the Ukraine border) at 11.30am. We were driven to Suceava sports hall where we were greeted with 250 mattresses lined up in rows, many of them already occupied. A constant stream of refugees were arriving having been picked up at the border and delivered to the centre by the local fire brigade.

You immediately feel the emotional tension, the confusion and the dread of people who have lost everything and want something to bring reality back into their lives. You feel emotionally and viscerally struck by their pain. We were told about a father and daughter who were shot and wounded while escaping, who then drove two days without stopping to reach the border.

We heard of many mothers and wives trying to communicate with their husbands, and brothers and sons who had been left behind to fight. And all of this in the extreme cold of winter where the air cuts through you like a knife. The emotion is indescribable. It was nothing like I had ever experienced before.

I had been out in Romania just a few months before working with our partner, Bread of Life, who run an orphanage that we support out there. I was surprised by how quickly the atmosphere had changed.

Gwyn outside one of the tents set up to help refugees.(Photo: Feed the Hungry)


After the shock of the first day we began seeing the signs of hope all around us. The deputy mayor getting involved by signing people into the refugee centre; church leaders folding sheets; teenagers handing out hot drinks; grandmothers making sandwiches. You see love poured out and the church working as Christ intended it.

We were asked to help with a convoy of transit vans delivering food to various groups. The first destination was a prison ministry who had converted an old army barracks into a hostel from which lorries were being loaded for Ukraine. The second drop was a delivery of food to a village hall feeding 300 people a day. We also dropped food at a Christian holiday centre which had been turned into a youth hostel for unaccompanied young adults and finally a distribution warehouse supplying food to re-homed Ukrainian families. The extraordinary amount of coordination and cooperation that has gone into developing all these facilities and services for thousands of fleeing people is incredible.

In the afternoon we had the chance to drive over to the border with Ukraine. Walking down a row of tents of NGO's handing out hot drinks and food we saw families waiting for loved ones and volunteers on mobile phones helping people connect with friends. In this place I begin to experience the confusion and tension that I have only ever felt before when helping those who lost everything in the Nepalese earthquake in 2015. Their world has been so shaken and destroyed that they walk around dazed and confused, disinterested in the food and drinks being handed out to them.

Handing over food to some of the local charities on the frontline we moved onto other warehouses who had raided every shop in Suceava, resulting in local food shortages. When food had run out at one centre - an old man came in and offered his pig which provided meat for 200 dinners for two days.

The day was filled with stories of families sharing their food, handing over keys to their homes and running kitchens and getting ready for worse to come.


The following morning, we met with Alex* and Krystine* from a city in western Ukraine. Their church has become our pivotal centre in Ukraine, distributing Feed the Hungry's first thirty tons of food in that country. At considerable personal risk, they had made the long journey to meet us as well as collect medical aid to go back to their city.

They expressed their joy at receiving the food we had sent and described in incredible detail the difficulties and hardships they are experiencing on a daily basis. They live in a city filled with 400,000 refugees hanging onto a diminishing hope but resolved to stay. They didn't want to venture further until forced to do so. They spoke of families torn apart; wounded children and newly orphaned children who had just lost their parents in the war. They told us about the humanitarian aid distributed by volunteers with fast cars and minibuses using country roads to deliver behind enemy lines into besieged cities.

Refugees walk past some of the tents set up to provide them with food and clothes.(Photo: Feed the Hungry)


From this emotional rollercoaster of a meeting in Suceava we journeyed southeast to Moldova to meet Sam and Leo who had reached out to us via a mutual contact. Thousands of Ukrainians pass through their town by train each night and they have been supporting them with a meal and water. They were initially looking for our support to provide resources for this, but we soon discovered they had much bigger plans. Over a simple dinner with their family and two refugee families staying with them, they told us of their plans to take over a disused hospital and convert it into a large hostel for Ukrainians currently being homed by families in their small town.

The situation is evolving all the time and we soon saw the aid we were providing needed to evolve with it. We began to make plans to send a 40ft shipping container into Moldova (which leaves Leamington Spa at the end of next week) to provide the basic food and bedding required to set this hostel up.


The flight home. Landing back in London. It all felt a bit surreal. Ukraine was in the news, but everything felt so normal.

Now reflecting on the experience back home, I am so encouraged and proud of the response of the Christians and the church; of how they have represented the name of the Lord Jesus and that even in the face of everything, their only boast has been in him.

Any small part we have been able to play has been an honour. But I also suspect this is very much the beginning of the story. We should expect much more to be demanded of us in the coming months and we are trying to prepare as much as we can.

*Names changed to protect their identities.

To find out more about the work of Feed The Hungry, and Ukraine response, please visit: feedthehungry.org.uk

Gwyn Williams has been UK Operations Director for Feed the Hungry for the last ten years. Gwyn's career as a designer was foundational in building his desire to work with community engagement projects. Gwyn has been involved in setting up a youth café, a tea bus street café, and an art gallery in his local town Hinckley. Whilst venturing as far as Romania and Mongolia in painting murals in orphanages, digging wells in Zambia and community kitchens in Uganda and Haiti; in partnership with Feed the Hungry and Team Rubicon. Gwyn is passionate in delivering and managing community projects and diverse range of programmes to suit different personalities, abilities and interests as well as understanding the quality and expectations of city planning, corporate expectation and the importance of encouraging local communities to engage with volunteering on local and international projects.