On Sunday, February 27th, Oleksandr Akulai decided to hire a van and drive to the Ukrainian border. He gave three families a lift back to Arges county, Romania, where his family lives and offered accommodation and meals to one of the families, while their local church is caring for the other two.
Oleksandr said, “How can we just stand and do nothing? We were in the same situation a few years ago.”
In 2014, the Akulai family joined over a million people who fled eastern Ukraine when violent conflict broke out, losing their homes, jobs, community, and everything they had known.
Oleksandr, 39, and his wife Ana, 35, had a toddler and baby at the time the conflict broke out. They left behind a beautiful home they had just finished building, taking only two bags of clothes with them – and started life all over again in Arges county, Romania.
Oleksandr said, “The world news reported only a tiny fraction of what was really going on in Ukraine back then. Thousands have died, and it was total chaos. We never expected to leave our country, but the circumstances compelled us.”
Despite not knowing anyone there, they decided to seek refuge in Romania.
They ended up in Ramnicu Valcea, a town in central-south Romania. For almost a year and a half, this town became their home and the birthplace of their baby girl, Estera, now six years old. For many months, their only possessions were the two bags of clothes they brought with them from Ukraine. During that whole time, they didn’t yet have the immigration papers they needed, and they were unsettled and unsure of what the future held.
Ana said, “Everything was so uncertain. I remember constantly wondering how long we were going to stay in one place. I was always prepared for another move, as we didn’t have a place of our own. I would wash our clothes and put them back in the bags we brought with us so that we were ready to leave if the situation called for it.”
Oleksandr shared, “After a year and a half, I decided to go back to Ukraine and sell everything we owned, hoping we would have enough to buy a house in Romania. Ana, my wife, didn’t want to stay behind with the children without me, so we all went home. We did get to sell everything, but we were stuck there for seven months because of visa issues.”
Some Christians in Romania heard about the Akulais’ situation and managed to secure a job for Oleksander. This gave the family the chance to return to Romania on a work visa. Later, because their grandparents were from Bessarabia, the family was granted citizenship, and their stay in the country became official.
Oleksander said, “Back home I was a mechanic and a forest guard, and my wife was a French and English teacher. We both brought in a good income. After our stay here in Romania became official, I started working in making tin roofs and my wife decided to stay home with the children. We started everything from zero and the income was just enough to get by. The church in Pitesti, the city we moved to, let us stay for free in the church apartment for the next two years.”
Not long afterwards, the Akulais were enrolled in Mission Without Borders’ family sponsorship programme after their friends told Daniel, a staff member in the area, about their struggles with poverty.
Daniel said, “Oleksander already had problems with his back, and one day, as he was working, he heard his spine crack and he started experiencing a lot of pain. He wasn’t able to move or work for the next six months. I met the family for the first time during that time. Oleksander was not even able to shake my hand.”
Although he still needs surgery, after some medical treatment Oleksandr was up again and tirelessly working to improve life for his family. With the money they received from selling their house, car and other belongings in Ukraine, they bought a small piece of land on the outskirts of Pitesti, and began to build a house.
Ana said, “It's hard to be away from everyone we love, and we pray every day for their protection. We only did this for our children.”