(RNS) — It’s not the fighter jets overhead or the explosions he’s heard nearby that bother missionary Ken Ward in his several trips to Ukraine since Russia invaded its neighbor.
It’s the people like those in a “little bitty village,” he said, outside of Kherson in the country’s southeast that was bombed in December. There he saw decimated houses and heard the story of villagers who buried “little pieces” of the body of a woman who died trying to get others to shelter.
“We just started driving down every road in the village,” Ward, 66, said of the small team he works with to deliver supplies provided by HelpingUkraine.US, a nonprofit. “It’s pitiful. You got to guess: Does somebody live there?”
Ward, a military veteran who has also served as a police officer and a probation officer, helped found churches in Moldova and Ukraine after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s and more recently assisted a homeless ministry in the U.S. state of Georgia, where he lives. But for the last few months, he has concentrated on helping the people of Ukraine survive the frigid temperatures of winter and the harsh effects of a war that is nearing its first anniversary.
Since November, as a team leader for HelpingUkraine.US, Ward has delivered blankets, wood-burning stoves and generators to Odessa, Kherson, Dnipro and surrounding villages and towns that have been hit by Russian rockets, and to centers that have become way stations for internally displaced people.
Helping Ukraine was founded by Emory Morsberger, an Atlanta community redevelopment expert, last year. Having visited the country decades ago, Morsberger decided after the Russian invasion that “I want to do more than just pray or talk or write a check,” he told supporters on a Zoom videoconference call featuring Ward.
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Morsberger worked with other members of the U.S. service organization the Rotary and a faith-based organization called Friends of Disabled Adults and Children to ship medical equipment to Ukraine. In November, he and FODAC partnered with Ward, other Rotarians and several churches to get supplies to cities and villages.
“Ken goes back to Moldova after working in Ukraine all week and actually gets to take a shower and warm up and eat a warm meal,” Morsberger said of Ward.
“And then Monday morning at 4 a.m., he’s back across the border, right through Odessa, where he has a number of friends. And he is functioning around this southern part of the Ukraine warfront.”
Ask Ward if he’s a missionary or a humanitarian and his answer is that it’s a package deal. “When you’re loving others, you’re loving God,” he said. “It’s all one.”
Morsberger said Helping Ukraine has raised $650,000 for the medical equipment as well as providing the supplies Ward has helped distribute. He hopes to raise $2 million more in the coming months.
Contributions have come from individuals, a Jewish foundation and Morsberger’s United Methodist church in the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville, which contributed $3,500 from donations received during its drive-through Christmas lights display.