"We are from Kherson,"
'We are from Kherson," She said. Kherson is a city decimated by Russian rockets and artillery. "We lived underground. Four weeks." "Did you pay Russian soldiers for permission to leave?" I asked. "Three hundred dollars." She said. "For the two of us." We stood there for a few moments while I tried to think of the next thing to say. "I was worried about my cat," she said, "So I took her with us when we left. She's coming to camp." "On the bus?" I asked "I have a box."
At 1030pm on Monday, August 1st, our bus left from Izmail. We crossed the border from Ukraine into Romania and later into Bulgaria, arriving in Varna at 7 am.
It is impossible to convey the experience of refugees and people displaced by the war in Ukraine. I can say their homes were destroyed by rockets, artillery, and tank fire, but
that's only a statement of facts. Even to say that grandparents or children were killed sounds like a generalization.
Acts of terrorism in America, 911, or mass shootings come close, but still. You have to imagine soldiers coming into your house, and while you lay face down on the floor, taking all food from your shelves and fridge, your television set and valuables, simply choosing what they want and walking out with it. You must imagine your own house gutted by fire, your automobile burned and lying upside down.
You must see your sheets, pillows, dishes, living room lamps, cushions, wall art, and toiletries mixed in with the mud and charred lumber, sheetrock, and broken brick. You must imagine the elderly dying from lack of food and water or smoke inhalation as they hide underground from the madness outside. Only then can you begin to understand the trauma these families have experienced. I show these faces so you will see what mothers and children displaced by this war look like. The expressions reflect their experience at camp, not home. We do not heal these people. We give them a week free of air raids, free of that anxiety; a week in dormitories with good food, rest, and conversation.
Kids play in the pool, explore the Black Sea, and run on the beaches. Many speak of desperate lives. Some meet with our psychologists. Families meet families who suffered. Now they support each other. These relationships, over time, will help. Specialists in trauma say people need an experience of life as normal to recover. That's what we give them.
Midweek, our staff took care of all 27 children while the mothers visited the Grand Mall in Varna. When they returned, they thanked us. One woman said, "Today I know I am not only a mom, I am a woman."
Grace and Peace, Robert Gamble