Finding hope: Hoosier missionaries in Ukraine reflect on invasion

·5 min read

Jul. 16—Editor's note: This is the final story in a three-part series.

With bombed-out rubble gathered all around her, a woman stands quietly in the doorway of her home in Irpin, Ukraine, a suburb of Kyiv.

With a look of exasperation on her face, it's perhaps difficult to imagine how she will ever be able to pick up the pieces from a war she didn't create.

It's been over 140 days since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.

In that time, over 5,000 civilians have died as a result of the war, according to information from the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner.

Several thousand more have been injured or displaced.

And though at times it might seem that Russia is winning the war, many of those currently living in Ukraine — such as Hoosier missionaries Michael and Michelle Pratt — believe otherwise.

If you think Ukrainians are just going to back down from a fight, they noted, then you really don't know Ukrainians at all.

"Focusing on the rebuild"

The Tribune caught up with the Pratts recently from their home in Lviv, where they said air raid sirens are still a common occurrence, though they now cut through the sound of children playing in nearby parks or birds singing in treetops.

Life in Ukraine has been interrupted, the couple said, but there is a firm belief that there will be peace again someday.

"There's a meme that I like a lot," Michael said. "There are these two Doberman Pinchers, and they're walking and getting right up to the corner of this building. On the other side of the corner, they can't see it yet, but there's this cat standing up and flattening itself up as flat as it can next to the building to try and hide. The captions are 'Russian army,' pointing to the cat, and 'Ukrainian farmers,' pointing to the dogs.

"There's another story of three Russian tanks that entered a village," he added. "They ran out of gas, and none of the Ukrainians gave them any gas. So, the soldiers got in the other tank and ran off to get some. While they were gone, the Ukrainians put Ukrainian flags on the other two tanks. Another Russian crew came along, saw the Ukrainian flags and blew up the tanks. That shows the resolve of the Ukrainian people right there."

The Pratts said they have weathered the initial onslaught of the Russian invasion, from creating a makeshift shelter for those in need to having to evacuate to Poland with thousands of other refugees.

And while the country is still in the midst of war, the Pratts' eyes are fixed on rebuilding what's already been lost and looking to what needs to be done in the future.

In recent weeks, the couple has been working with officials on the ground from Lviv to Kyiv to help rebuild churches, schools and homes that have been destroyed by Russian cruise missile strikes, and their organization — New Horizons Ukraine — has already helped thousands of people so far.

Along with helping meet people's physical needs, the Pratts are concerned with Ukrainians' emotional needs as well, Michael said.

"One of our goals is focusing on the rebuild," he said. "Post-traumatic stress is going to be a problem with people moving forward. Trauma is huge. So, we're identifying people — doctors and psychologists and psychiatrists — who specialize in trauma care and who can come in to assist these people that have seen so much already. And we want to do this at no cost to those we will be serving."

Of course, one thing that the Pratts won't do is leave the country, they said, because Ukraine is their home.

It's been their home for over 30 years, and it'll hopefully be their home for another 30 more, they added.

"I think it'll be better"

Michelle said the circumstances of these past few months have challenged her strength in ways she couldn't have imagined, but her faith has never wavered.

It's just been shaped and molded a bit.

"It's easy to be caught up in our own little lives, even here," she admitted. "The other day, I was at a grocery store, and they only had about half of the items on my list. With each item, I was getting more frustrated, and then it hit me how petty it all was. I'm bothered by the fact that I can't find the shampoo I want when others around me have no homes to go back to. It was just a good reminder for me about what's really important in the end."

The Pratts then took a few moments to talk about the country they fell in love with in the mid-1990s, pausing occasionally to gather their thoughts.

"I think it'll be better," Michelle said, referring to what Ukraine will be like once Russian troops hopefully leave the country. "Honestly, I think this has really united Ukraine. There are two different sides of the country, the eastern side and the western one. But that's changing. I heard a Ukrainian the other day say that if you can't learn Ukrainian, it's better to learn English than speak Russian.

"So once this is all over, we will have a lot more going for us than we ever had before," she added. "I believe that."

Michael agreed with his wife.

"When you lose so much, you start to realize what it is you lost and what you didn't have and what you could have," he said. "The Ukrainian people are smart. They're brilliant people. They're resourceful people. They've had to be over the years. The Ukrainian people are beautiful, beautiful people, and we're going to rise from this better and stronger than we ever were before."

If you would like to learn more about what the Pratts are doing in Ukraine, or help them with their cause, you can visit https://www.newhorizonsukraine.org/.