Borderlands International is a small grassroots organization. As such, our staff all perform multiple roles to keep things running smoothly. And whereas that keeps us all busy, we’ve made it our priority to add a regular news feed to our website for the year 2023. We hope you enjoy learning more about our ongoing work and getting to know us in more detail.
For our first post of the year, please allow us to share our most celebrated recent accomplishment. Our team on the ground in Ukraine has successfully rescued 15 Ukrainian children and their legal guardian who had been forcibly relocated to Russia.
Promptly following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a boarding school in Mykolaiv Oblast sent word to the relatives of their approximately 100 students instructing them to pick up the children as quickly as possible. By the second week of March, only 15 students remained, mostly orphans and abandoned kids. As the frontline moved closer to their city, they moved to an underground bunker on the school property. Then, faster than anyone had imagined possible, the Russian forces broke Ukrainian defenses, invaded and occupied their city.
The director of the school, an incredibly brave woman named Natalia (first name used with permission), left her home across town and moved into the bunker with the children to protect and care for them. The next five months were a nightmare. The city shut down under occupation, but fortunately there was food stored in the bunker that sustained them, albeit strictly rationed. Natalia allowed the children above ground as much as possible, but airstrikes, including the notorious and internationally banned cluster bombs, were regular and extremely dangerous. These kids who should have been learning how to line up after recess were instead learning how to listen for the signs of an imminent missile and get underground within 30 seconds.
Meanwhile an American couple reached out to members of our Ukraine team who they had gone to church with several years prior. One of the children in Mykolaiv was their fully adopted American daughter. They had tickets to pick her up, but their flight had been cancelled when the Russian invasion caused all air traffic into Ukraine to be indefinitely grounded. Amidst the chaos of the early days of the war, our team tracked down the location of the children, established communication and reported their situation to the proper Ukrainian authorities. However, when our team realized that the adopted girl was with her peers behind Russian lines, a plan to extract one child became an endeavor to rescue all 15.
Because the group was located right on the front lines and in the midst of some of the fiercest fighting, it was impossible to evacuate them. Our team consulted with government agencies, professional extraction groups and large international NGOs, but there was no possible way to bring them out. We sent urgent prayer requests and hundreds of people around the world lifted their petitions to the Lord for the children’s safety and freedom.
We thank God that, everything considered, the children were treated well. The Russian soldiers they regularly encountered were fond of them, bringing them toys and chocolates. They even teared up the first time they realized there was an unevacuated orphanage in the village they had invaded. We have no doubts that this was an answer to those prayers. Countless hours and many resources were spent trying to rescue these kids, but for months it proved impossible.
Following the illegal annexation of Kherson Oblast by Russia, Natalia and the kids were forcibly moved to Kherson. A few months later a bus showed up to their new facility and they were ordered to be ready to leave within 10 minutes. Natalia pleaded for extra time to prepare the kids, but she was told that the children would be taken without her and they would leave her behind if she even hinted at not cooperating. The kids frantically threw belongings into garbage bags and pillow cases and were then herded onto a bus. By the end of the long trip, they had been loaded onto multiple busses, a boat and a train. It was only when they were loaded onto the final train that Natalia was told that they were being “evacuated” to Russia. Again she pleaded with them to allow her and the kids to remain in Ukraine, but they refused; it was already decided.
Up to this point, Borderlands International had been supporting the orphanage in various ways. In addition to monitoring the situation and keeping extraction teams on standby, we sent food and money to them through existing underground channels even after Russia forbade the shipment of humanitarian aid to the region. Our team spent weeks in Mykolaiv during the time it was the third most bombed city in all of Ukraine, ever ready to jump into action. When our team heard that the kids had suddenly been moved to Russia just days before they expected an opportunity to send an extraction team to recover them, it came as a heavy blow. The team reported having wept and prayed late into the night and fallen asleep overwhelmed by feelings of defeat. But again, thanks to God and your prayers, they also reported waking up the next morning filled with hope.
Natalia said that when she and the children were placed in a transitory facility in Russia, it was like the kids just gave up. They became lethargic and depressed. She said that it was then they started to feel like they were completely alone and forgotten. We cannot discuss the methods used to bring Natalia and the kids out of Russia in this post. However, It was such a successful mission that it has become a study for others focused on rescuing more Ukrainian children who have been forced into Russia. Our team said that they prayed for God’s wisdom every step of the way, and they are hopeful it will continue bearing fruit in the recovery of many more children taken and lost by the nefarious forces of war on a global scale.
After the successful evacuation, our team hugged every child and told them about all of the people all over the world who had prayed for them. They shared that they had never been forgotten and how Jesus loved them so much that He opened a door for them to be rescued even when everyone said it was impossible. Today the kids play soccer and jump rope in the large yard in front of their current residence in Georgia (the country). They attend a Ukrainian school online and participate in extra curricular activities with other Ukrainian refugee children. They were even invited to visit the Georgian president herself and toured the Presidential Palace.
When conditions at their old school in Mykolaiv are safe and fit, these children will return to their home country. For now they are being well cared for and loved by a supportive community which includes a local Christian fellowship. Their future looks bright and we continue to pray that as they grow up, they will remember the Christians who never stopped praying and trying to reach them and that they will recognize it as a reflection of Christ who does the same for each of us.
Current living expenses for Natalia and the children total approximately $5000 per month. If you would like to sow into their future by helping Borderlands International cover this expense, please follow the donations link to our donations page and designate your gift as “UA orphanage” in the comments section when prompted. You can also partner with our Ukraine-based team and their ongoing work in evacuations, humanitarian aid, medical training trauma counseling and more by designating a one-time or recurring donation as “UA team.” All of our missionaries are volunteers and depend on financial partnerships to do what they do. All USA based donations are tax-deductible.
Thank you for your support and prayers. Together we reveal Christ to the world.
PS: Our team had the privilege of meeting up with the American adoptive mother in Georgia. She and her long fought for daughter are flying home together this coming Friday.
Do justice to the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and needy. Rescue them out of the hands of the wicked.Psalm 82:3-4