Ukrainian refugees find community in Green Bay church
GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - From the sidewalk, House of Prayer Baptist Church looks like any other place of worship. But inside, there’s a vibrant community of Ukrainian refugees.
“Each family, they came separately most of them. But they have one thing in common. Their home countries started bombing so they had to leave their house for their safety,” Pastor Andrey Okhman said.
The Smyrnov family fled Ukraine when war first broke out, driving five full days into Germany before flying to the United States. House of Prayer church opened its wallet, setting them up for success.
A translator told Action 2 News their story.
“There was a house they rented out for some time that when they came over they had their own private place to spend time with the family,” Serhii Smyrnov explained.
“When you see that the person is in need you just spend your time, spend your finances and start helping,” Okhman continued. “As a church we’re paying from our church account. The other people, they’ve already found jobs and they’re paying for their own housing.”
Incoming refugees see an outpouring of support, especially from a Ukrainian who moved to Green Bay two decades ago.
“Some day when I came to the United States some people helped me,” Mykola Pokotylo said.
Now, Pokotylo’s giving back. He helps refugees sign up for English as a Second Language courses, donates tissues and papers to new families, even teaches people how to get behind the wheel.
“He was a bit scared to drive with these people when he was teaching them,” the translator said jokingly. Pokotylo broke in, “No... good students. The students listen to me and do everything that I say.”
Olena Yakovenko says she’s grateful for the help... but she’s still getting used to driving in the winter.
“The system is different. Signs are different so it’s totally new to learn. Plus language-wise too, you’re still adjusting and learning,” Yakovenko said.
She came to Green Bay with her two children after hearing bombs outside their home. Her husband is still in Ukraine.
“Another family is helping with how to fill out documents so I can count almost everyone who was helping us be able to somehow start to live in a new place, new country.”
Pastor Okhman said the church has helped more than 35 refugees find their footing so far. By this time next year, he expects that number to double.
“More and more families are emailing us, calling from Ukraine, asking for help with sponsorship,” Okhman explained. “They need to find a sponsor. Somebody from the U.S. has to sign the papers saying they’ll help with the airfare, food, housing everything.”
He said at a certain point, the churches hands are tied and any community support is more than welcome. He urges anyone interested in sponsorship or financially supporting the church efforts to house and feed refugees to reach out to 920-370-6816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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