Ukrainian woman from the city of Zelenski clings to her faith during refuge in Brazil

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The life of Olena Zibrova, 65, is marked by devotion to Jesus Christ. Since she was cured of cancer 30 years ago, the pastor has carried her Bible virtually everywhere she goes. It was no different when she met the Sheet in a supermarket restaurant in Belo Horizonte. Before talking about her life in the capital of Minas Gerais, after months fleeing the Ukrainian War, she opened her Christian book and prayed the Our Father in Portuguese.

“I know some passages from the Bible by heart, but in Portuguese I don’t know very well”, he explained. Olena arrived in Belo Horizonte at the end of April, when she left her three children and four grandchildren in Ukraine as a result of the Russian invasion. Her husband, with whom she had lived for 47 years, had just died of complications from a stroke.

The choice for Brazil, according to her, was the result of God’s will. Before the war, she barely knew the country, much less the Portuguese language – Olena speaks Ukrainian and Russian. Her children, however, insisted, and she sought support from the GKPN (Global Kingdom Partnership Network), an organization of Christian missionaries and businessmen present in more than one hundred nations.

“My children were very worried about me. My husband died on the 19th and, on the 20th, they asked me to move to Brazil”, she says. Here, she and 12 other refugees were welcomed by the Central Baptist Church, in a noble region of BH, where they attend weekly services. The sermons are translated into Ukrainian by Uliana Labiak —who also helped with the interview with Olena. The church provides health and beauty treatments, money for living expenses and schooling for children.

Before fleeing the war, the Ukrainian woman worked as a missionary for her own church, founded three decades ago in Krivii Rih, the city of President Volodimir Zelensky. Today, she tries to maintain the function, talking weekly with pastors spread across various regions of Ukraine, as well as Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland – the three nations sheltered the religious during the war.

But the distance makes contact with the faithful difficult, and the daily tasks were assigned to his son, Andrei, 46, who now lives alone in a city in central Ukraine after organizing the trip of his children and his wife to Germany. He is responsible for caring for people fleeing from regions heavily affected by war. The house where Olena lived was also turned into a shelter for refugees.

Their daughters, aged 36 and 22, also had to leave the house. The eldest considered coming to Brazil, but was convinced by her husband to move to a city in Ukrainian territory. Days before the choice, the Russians bombed her residence in Energodar – where the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant is located, the target of bombings and constant UN alerts.

“Maybe my children will come to Brazil; they are afraid of a nuclear attack,” says Olena, referring to President Vladimir Putin’s threats to use weapons of mass destruction in war if necessary.

The Ukrainian is said to be, as far as possible, adapted to Brazil. Every day, she participates in activities offered by the church, such as soap making and sewing and Portuguese courses. Language is still an obstacle, but Olena has memorized phrases like “God bless you” and “God bless your family.” For her, the biggest obstacle is recognizing the sounds of the letters of the alphabet —in Cyrillic, for example, the letter P has the sound of R and the H, of N.

Minas cuisine, on the other hand, is not a problem. She says she liked the cheese bread, although she thinks the pirojki (baked bread with different fillings) is more delicious. Beans are reproached: “For Ukrainians, our food is always the best.”

Naturally, Olena misses her homeland and still dreams that the conflict will end soon. “We used to pray to win the war against the Russians, but now we pray like Jesus Christ: ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.’

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