Ukraine Appeal

“It is a dire and tragic situation for everybody caught up in this conflict but, yet again, seafarers find themselves in the front line.”

I am writing this letter in March. Just two years ago we were wrestling with dramatic initial stages of the pandemic.  Exactly two years later, and equally unexpectedly, we find ourselves dealing with the intense challenges of war in Ukraine.

Both crises have had a dramatic impact on seafarers. There are around 75,000 Ukrainian crew, and about 200,000 Russian crew. Together, they form a very substantial part of the global maritime workforce. We can all begin to imagine what it must feel like to be a Ukrainian seafarer far from home hearing the news and wondering exactly what is happening to his, or her, family. The worry, the anxiety, the sense of helplessness. To say these feelings are acute, debilitating and massively stress-inducing is to understate the realities.

Ukrainian seafarers finishing contracts or trying to go home early are facing insuperable travel problems – following the cancellation of flights due to both conflict and sanctions. Arranging for money to go home, both for Ukrainians and for Russians is also incredibly difficult. Limitations on communication are causing great hardship for those who want, and need, to be in very close contact with family.

Many vessels are trapped in Ukrainian ports, with some crew leaving ships to try and make their way to safety overland. Many seafarer families have become refugees, and we will no doubt hear in due course of the destruction of many homes. Already some ships have been directly caught up in the fighting and we were privileged to have been invited to visit one ship, now in Istanbul, which had sustained damage in an attack. This must have been immensely traumatic for the crew. Finally, many Russian seafarers, caught up in a situation not of their making, find themselves in potentially intensely difficult circumstances.

The Mission to Seafarers has no port teams in either Ukraine or Russia. However, Ukrainian and Russian seafarers are to be found across the full range of our 200 ports and we are in daily contact with very many of them.

Here are just four port reports of the many received in these early days of the conflict.

From Panama: “An emotionally challenging visit to this lovely, warm and welcoming crew after many months. Chief Officer is from Mariupol, Ukraine. He has been on the telephone regularly with his wife is who frightened and deeply distressed by the Russian invasion. Mariupol is currently surrounded and there is no way for her or the family to leave. He is due to sign off on the 3rdMarch and has no way of returning home. Chief Officer has decided to fly to Germany so that he may stay with relatives living there in the hope that the negotiations between the Ukraine and Russia will be successful and enable him to return home. He is clearly upset and worried about the escalation of the violence and not being able to do anything concrete to help or support his family…”

From New Zealand: “Wi-Fi given upon arrival. Sad. Seven Ukrainian’s and six Russians onboard.  No fighting but very sad. They cannot go home, they cannot have crew changes. Some onboard for 9.5 months. Last time I visited they were so cheerful, just awful with what they are going through. Have told them to ring me day or night if they want to talk. They are coming back one more time so I can check up and see how they’re doing then.”

From the UK: Delivered Wi-Fi and newspaper. Two Ukrainian crew on board and provided two free SIM card packages to them. The wife of one of them is in Kiev and he tried to talk to her, but access is very limited to reach her. Third Officer sent us order for sushi.” 

From the USA: Visited to deliver one last package. Fifteen new crew members on boarded this morning. We got to speak with a new officer from Ukraine about the situation back home. He is concerned for his family, who are currently fleeing to Spain following the recent bombings. They will be in our prayers.” 

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While much remains unclear, what we can do, we are doing. The above comments give you a flavour of the pastoral demands on our chaplains and frontline teams. These will remain our core work at this stage. We can also respond to the communication problem, supporting teams in giving out free SIM cards where required and to add capacity in our ability to place MiFi units on ships (with additional airtime).

We will also make resource available for the care and support of stranded seafarers where necessary. We are also exploring how we might swiftly add further specialist “own language” mental health support for Ukrainians and Russians as part of our WeCare programme. Beyond this we are looking closely with our partners at other options as things further develop. As ever we remain in close dialogue with the industry.

It is worth underlining that it is deep in the DNA of The Mission to Seafarers, in accordance with our Christian purposes and values to take an unfailingly inclusive approach.  We will remain focused on a practical compassion that touches all impacted, regardless of nationality.

This letter comes to you as one of our closest friends and partners. You will be wanting to know how we are responding to the issue dominating the news, and indeed the thoughts and prayers of us all.

Beyond that this letter comes to you appealing for your unwavering support and generosity which we never take for granted and will make such a tangible difference to the lives of those we serve in your name.  Your kindness and commitment have taken us through the pandemic (which itself remains far from finished) and will now, we know, take us through whatever this recent tragedy will mean for seafarers and their families.

If you wish to make a financial contribution to the Mission’s work at this time, you will be assisting Ukrainian seafarers and their families in some of their darkest moments.  The Ukrainian people have shown their fortitude as they fight for their right to independence, and we are there to support them emotionally, physically and spiritually, as and when they need us.

Thank you for your kind and generous help, for which we are deeply grateful.

In warm friendship.

The Revd Canon Andrew Wright

Secretary General

The Mission to Seafarers

Donate to our Ukraine Appeal

If you would like to support the work we do, please click on the button below to donate to this appeal.

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