It’s 24 years since a Salvation Army member from Winton took musical instruments over to his colleagues in Ukraine and started a relationship between his church and the eastern European state which has gone from strength to strength.
The Salvation Army’s Winton Corps has been sending volunteers over to Ukraine every two years on a project called Ukraine: Vision of Hope after David Ramsay went on his first mission of mercy back in 1994. This year, between flying out 21 July and their return on 1 August, local Salvation Army members helped out at an older people’s home where they renovated a kitchen, bathrooms and bedrooms and ran a children’s camp at an orphanage in Lviv. They also provided healthcare clinics for the village of Uhniv and surrounding villages and visited Roma families in the Carpathian mountain region where they ran day camps for children with activities including craft, games and music.
Over the last quarter of a century, David - a retired police officer – and his colleagues at The Salvation Army in Winton Corps have had to overcome corruption, bureaucracy and war to support their colleagues in Ukraine. So David, why did you choose Ukraine?
“Having heard of The Salvation Army opening up its work again in Ukraine we decided to fund and run the Camp Victory music school on the outskirts of Kiev. I had spent the previous 12 months travelling throughout the UK and so I was able to take 120 brass instruments to the camp which had been donated by both Salvation Army bands and other brass bands I’d met at competitions.
“This camp, in June 1994 was attended by approximately 170 children for two weeks the vast majority had never sung or played a brass instrument before. Our team of 26 was made up of mostly Winton soldiers and the music sessions were organised and led by Lieutenant Colonel Norman Bearcroft who at the time was songster leader at Winton.”
What have been the biggest challenges for you in organising Ukraine: Vision of Hope over the years?
“There have been many challenges over the years when organising our missions. In the early missions we required visas to enter the country and we’ve faced difficulties especially when we were trying to send aid into the country. We also have to fundraise for the missions because each member pays or raises £700 towards the mission. We rely entirely on these donations. “In early 2014, Ukraine was annexed by Russia and we had already planned our mission for that year. Throughout the first 6 months of 2014 there was real concern as to whether we went ahead with the visit. In May it was decided that I’d travel alone to Ukraine to assess the situation. On meeting with the Divisional Commanders and soldiers out in Ukraine, I found it was relatively normal in central and the west of Ukraine and after much prayer it was decided to go ahead with the mission - albeit with a much smaller team. That mission turned out to be one of the best.”
How have things changed in Ukraine since your first visit to the country back in 1994?
“Over the 24 years I had seen a gradual improvement in the living standards in Ukraine especially in the capital Kiev. However since the conflict started in 2014 there has been a really noticeable decline in living standards.”
Finally, can you tell me about Ukraine: Vision of Hope 2018 and some of the highlights of your most recent visit?
“This year’s mission was our biggest one ever to date that involved 41 members who we split into three teams to work on separate projects. It was also one of our most challenging missions. I would say that one of the highlights was the introduction of a medical team who worked with the nursing staff at the Uhniv home for the elderly.
“They and also held daily surgeries in the town and surrounding villages. These surgeries often had queues out of the door awaiting the clinic. Also the fact that despite a large number of obstacles put in our way (the devil was certainly at work) the team achieved everything that we had planned to do and more.”
If you’d like to find out more about Ukraine: Vision of Hope 2018, visit the mission’s Facebook group – Ukraine: Vision of Hope 2. Here you’ll be able to see films and photographs from the visit, read comments from the team about their mission. You can also see highlights from the trip on Twitter @UkraineVOH