By Sharon T. Markey

This is a story about ordinary men who accomplished something extraordinary. While the world was watching the terrifying drama of the seige of Mariupol unfold, these brave men were doing something to relieve the suffering and get as many people to safety as possible. 

From the first days of the war, many courageous Ukrainians were ready to drive into hot zones to deliver aid and evacuate civilians, but they needed vehicles. Through many contributions from churches and private individuals, we were able to supply the funds to purchase a number of vehicles during the early weeks of  the war—from cars, to vans, to larger cargo vehicles. 

Four of these vehicles went to a church in an eastern city. They had been busy taking aid and evacuating people from hot spots all around them, but they had a burning desire to go into the captured city of Mariupol. The chance presented itself in late March 2022, when a member of the church successfully drove into Mariupol in a small 5-seat sedan. He encountered a car whose occupants were stranded without fuel. After he gave them fuel, the 2 cars managed to get a total of 17 people out of Mariupol that day! Inspired by his success, the next day a group of men from several churches loaded up their vehicles with food and water and prepared to go to Mariupol. A newly-acquired van that we helped them get was part of that caravan.

These drivers had a harder time than the driver the previous day. They made it into the city, but they were told they would not be allowed to leave until after the weekend.  Once in the city, they came under sniper fire, and a bullet actually grazed the side of one driver’s neck, but not one else was hurt. They passed out the aid they had brought, and after the weekend they were allowed to take people out of the city. After that, they focused their efforts on Mariupol and ultimately evacuated 2,500 people!

Eventually 4 of these heroes were imprisoned by the Russian occupiers, and another 3 were presumed dead after Russian soldiers opened fire on the vehicle they were in, completely riddling it with bullet holes. As a result, they were forced to discontinue trips to Mariupol, but they continue to do all they can to alleviate suffering in other places.