Notes on Returning Home

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 of June 25
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
        • Humedica
  • 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 
  • 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 
  • Needs
    • 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.
  • Risks 

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.