For those of you who are interested in the nuts and bolts of how we have come to the decision to return to Ukraine, here are some of the notes, compiled by Josh, our board chair, for our last board meeting. There are more considerations that are more personal to us and our team that are not shared here, but you’ll at least get the gist of our thoughts and plans as we move forward. Also, I realize that this war changes every single day, so when you read this, some of the info might already be old.
Have a read and feel free to nerd out! 😆
- Situation in Ukraine when the group left comparison to situation now
|March 5||June 26|
|Hostile ground forces attacking/advancing within 50 miles of the homestead (west of Kyiv)||Closest fighting is now 400 miles away (Mykolaiv/Kharkiv)|
|Missile strikes as close as 3.5 miles away, frequent—all attempted to hit military targets, although some missed and hit civilian areas||36 missiles in the past 10 weeks in the entire region—34 of them on the morning of 6/25|
|Active airspace with Russian planes flying in support of the advance West of Kyiv||No planes seen once we crossed the border—some cruise missiles that hit Zhytomyr region were launched by planes in Belarussian airspace|
|Map of March 5 https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/DraftUkraineCoTMarch5%2C2022.png||Map of June 25 https://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/DraftUkraineCoTJune25%2C2022.png|
|Embassy in Kyiv closed||Embassy in Kyiv open|
|Schools closed||Schools plan to reopen in September|
- August 2021 comparison to June 2022 (August 2021 was the last time Josh visited, pre-war. These are his observations of then and now)
- Checkpoints, bunkers/trenches visible
- A few military vehicles seen in transit on the road
- More people in military attire
- Gas stations often out of diesel/gas – long lines for fuel if a station has it
- Streets are busy, store shelves are full, malls and parks are bustling
- Curfew (must be home between 11pm and 5pm)
- After we left Ukraine, Zhytomyr was hit again with 24 missiles on June 25th.
- Continue to reside at the church in Germany
- Until when? US/Europe anticipate protracted conflict
- Living in the church building is not a sustainable option moving forward
- How would conditions need to change for a return? Ceasefire? What if that never comes? The reality is that Ukraine has endured active fighting since one month after the Johnsons moved to Zhytomyr. While there have obviously been intense escalations since February, martial law being declared, general mobilization of Ukrainian men, missile strikes, invasion, etc. – this country has been at war for nearly a decade.
- Time in Germany not wasted
- Medical care for all of the boys, staff, and families
- There was a real need to leave when we did
- Connections made
- Relationships with people from the church
- Work opportunities for Ruslan and Vlad – model for what a possible vocational center could look like in Zhytomyr
- Try to find alternative housing in Germany
- We’ve been trying, partners have been trying, nothing has materialized
- There is a village for people with disabilities, but despite our efforts to pursue it, they haven’t responded to any of our inquiries
- Challenge would still remain to navigate social systems/German-language schooling, 3rd culture (neither Ukrainian or American)
- Relocate to another country
- UK not an option (at their 50,000 capacity), US not an option (humanitarian parolee status does not afford any housing or medical benefit), other countries in Europe are already strained and housing is in short supply.
- Challenges to resettlement under the international refugee program
- Find housing in Western Ukraine
- Navigating social systems would remain the same as in Zhytomyr (pension, doctors, Rx, housing)
- Remaining as IDP preferable to becoming refugees again
- Still can accomplish limited goals as long as the team is in the country
- Male staff can participate in caretaking
- Return to Zhytomyr
- Over 50,000 people are internally displaced from other regions of Ukraine to Zhytomyr City and its immediate surrounding area.
- 1.8m Ukrainian refugees and internally displaced persons have returned home in the past month
- Opportunity to help establish a day center with vocational opportunities for people with disabilities in Zhytomyr with the city, social services department, and UNICEF.
- Homestead benefits
- Redundant power/internet/communications
- Self-reliant for water/heat/sanitation
- Accessible for people with disabilities
- Food stores
- Tons of space (house, duplex, existing structures) – large enough to house entire staff, their families, the boys, Johnsons, and other families of people with disabilities
- Priorities: Physical Safety, Mental Health, Thriving vs Surviving, Missional vs Passive, Intentional vs. Reactive
- Considerations: Johnson family desires, Ukrainian staff desires, welfare of our boys, Romaniv boys, friends with disabilities in Zhytomyr, humanitarian relief, opportunities to serve
- Updated contingency plan should a need arise to leave the Homestead again
- Clear conditions to trigger an evacuation
- Conditions to remain the same—leave if Zhytomyr/Homestead become unsafe due to hostile ground forces
- Practiced evacuation plan
- Stores of supplies for the journey
- More suitable long-term housing options for long term sheltering of a large group (46 in the initial group that went to Germany)
- Organizational Philosophy
- We’re helpers—we have a nurse, teacher, occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech language pathologist, social worker, psychologists–Ukraine will need our team to engage in the healing/rebuilding process
- Families of persons with disabilities in our community need us
- Jed finalizing paperwork to have joint custody of Maxim (who lives with his elderly mother in Zhytomyr) and the plan is that when she is unable to care for him, he will come live at the Homestead
- Romaniv institution is overwhelmed with additional residents from other areas—they need our team’s support
- WE STILL EXIST TO DEINSTITUTIONALIZE. Communal living in Germany has caused some regression in the boys to institutional behaviors (Anton– physical aggression/diminishing verbal communication, Vanya- disruptive and manipulative behavior–he was not previously institutionalized and has not lived communally, Boris- self-harm)
- We need to begin a new wave of interns to replace personnel who are transitioning
- Ukrainian-led: Our team wants to be in Ukraine to be able to help. Since inception, we’ve stated that this work, while sparked by Americans, needs to be led by Ukrainians as they’re the only ones who can effect lasting change.
- Some of our staff has reached the point where they would rather leave the organization and return to Ukraine than stay in Germany as refugees. The Johnsons desire to be in Ukraine.
- The entire staff is in agreement that it is time to return home.
- While remaining abroad is an option, we would need to source new local staff that would be unlikely to return to Ukraine with the group, have a language barrier with the boys/team, need training on our standards/philosophy of care, etc–a bandaid, not a long-term solution.
- It would also be very disruptive to the boys and the organization.
- Conventional missile strikes
- Russia has used up much of its reserves of missiles, vastly reducing the frequency of attacks
- Russia is even resorting to using anti ship missiles against land targets, presumably because their stockpile is low
- At this point, missiles are conserved for logistic/military targets and harassment of civilian population (example: missile strikes in Kyiv while foreign dignitaries visited and after the EU voted to grant Ukraine candidate status)
- The morning of 6/25 there were ~34 missiles launched at Zhytomyr over a period of 3 hours. Ten were shot down, but 24 hit military and strategic targets in the area surrounding the city (no missiles landed in the city)
- Invasion from Belarus
- Ukraine has beefed up security along the northern border since the invasion
- Belarus has also fortified/held exercises along the border
- 2 hour drive if unimpeded – difficult terrain if opposed would likely extend this to weeks/months of warning
- In Donetsk, best advances in the past month have only achieved maximum incursion of 6 miles
- Putin stated on 6/25 that Russia would supply missiles to Belarus, including missiles which could be armed with nuclear warheads.
- Ukrainian intelligence does not believe it is likely Belarus will invade
- Supply chain disruption
- Fuel and building materials can be hard to come by, but we have our fuel stores and no major construction needs.
- The missile attacks on 6/25 have caused a renewed vigilance in the team–Zhytomyr is not “next to” a war zone–it’s in it. Constant vigilance is required (e.g. going to shelter during air raid sirens, not going into the city areas as often, staying close to the team/Homestead should something happen)
- Conventional missile strikes
These are the things we have been discussing within our team and with our Board of Directors. I hope it helps you understand a bit of our thought process.