Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary transforms into humanitarian hub, partners with IMB, Send Relief

By Sue Sprenkle

LVIV, Ukraine — Every day when air raid sirens pierced the air, Yaroslav Pyzh ran to the window to see if the airport was still there. On March 18, he saw the inevitable — columns of dark smoke. Lviv, Ukraine, was hit by Russian missile strikes near the airport for the first time since the invasion began.

“Twenty-three days of war [and] sadly today Lviv was bombed,” Pyzh, president of the Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary, said in a video statement. “That was the first time in my life when I saw cruise missiles exploding. I have to admit, that was strange and scary.”

Back in 2019, students crowded into the library of Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary for a class. Today, this same room is filled with mattresses and anything those displaced by war could manage to salvage and grab. The seminary welcomed their fellow countrymen with open arms. The students, faculty and staff now man what has become an important humanitarian hub in Lviv. Screengrab

The seminary sits less than three miles from the airport and 43 miles from the Polish border. Lviv and the seminary have become ground zero for displaced Ukrainians. The U.N. migration agency estimates that nearly 6.5 million people have been displaced inside Ukraine with almost 3.5 million fleeing the country.

Thousands of these displaced have passed through the small seminary as it opened doors to neighbors and fellow countrymen. UBTS has provided housing for 4,150 people in their converted classrooms. They have helped close to 3,000 relocate. After Friday’s bombing, even more relocated.

“We decided to evacuate our women and children,” Pyzh said, noting that in the last few days the number of refugees has increased. “We have partners in Poland who are helping and assisting us to find a place for our families.”

These partnerships with Baptists around the world, including the International Mission Board, have helped the seminary to become a humanitarian hub. When refugees cross into Poland, people are waiting to help. There are supplies to help meet immediate needs. Pyzh said through Send Relief, the Southern Baptist compassion ministry partnership, they have also been able to purchase supplies and send to different cities within Ukraine where needs are the greatest because not everyone can evacuate. He estimated more than 8,000 have been helped through this.

Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary in Lviv sits just 43 miles from the Polish border. The city and the seminary have become ground zero for displaced Ukrainians. The U.N. estimates more than 6 million Ukrainians have been displaced over the last 24 days. UBTS has housed more than 4,000 on their campus and helped more than 3,000 to relocate across the border to Poland. Screengrab

“With the help of so many people that I will probably never meet, we are able to serve those who are in great need,” Pyzh said. “I would like to thank you for your prayers … and for sharing with us this burden.”

This is not the first time for UBTS to respond when their countrymen were in upheaval. They offered support in 2014 when many lost their homes from Russian military strikes and fled to Lviv. The seminary faculty, staff and students shared the love of Christ with refugees in much the same way they are today — sharing the pain, meeting needs and offering hope.

Pyzh prays for a miracle. He and the seminary volunteers start each day as if it is their last because they never know when it’s going to end.

“Every day we have enough faith to carry on doing what we are doing,” Pyzh said. “God renews that faith every single day. The reason we have strength is because we know His faithfulness.”

Join Southern Baptist Relief efforts and find downloadable resources. You may also follow the ongoing work of UBTS online.

Published March 22, 2022

Sue Sprenkle

Sue Sprenkle is a writer for the IMB.