Ukrainian refugees find help in a Russian priest

Zahra Ullah and Frederik Pleitgen

Four months ago, Viktoria Shishkina and her husband Vladimir were preparing for the birth of their first child. Now, they sit in an unassuming apartment turned hostel in the center of St. Petersburg, Russia, where they are refugees. They escaped from Mariupol, the Black Sea port city now under Russian control, but are permanently scarred by all they have lost.

When Russian troops invaded Ukraine, Shishkina was in a maternity hospital in Mariupol, resting. She remembers being in a ward full of women approaching their due dates when the bomb struck the hospital.

On March 9, Mariupol’s Maternity Hospital No. 3 was bombed killing four and wounded scores more. For Shishkina, everything changed.

“Whoever caused that explosion, I took a direct hit in the belly — right to my baby — and they weren’t able to save him,” she told CNN, keeping her voice strong even as tears welled in her eyes.

Vladimir had been injured the day before the hospital bombing, and was being treated nearly 70 miles away (112 km) in the separatist-run city of Donetsk.

It was there that Shishkina finally caught up with him and where help came from Reverend Mikhnov-Vaytenko, Archbishop of the Apostolic Orthodox Church, in St. Petersburg, who arranged their passage to St. Petersburg and paid for their shelter, medical care and needs.

Mikhnov-Vaytenko estimates he and his network of volunteers have helped thousands of Ukrainian refugees since the conflict began, from paying for travel and housing for refugees to medical care or information about where they can go and what they are entitled to in Russia, all often with a kind word or prayer.

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