Freedom Come Rain Newspaper Vol. 2 Issue 31
By Maxine Gray Demetrius
William Massias is one of the founding members of St. Timothy the Apostle Orthodox Church in Jamaica. Opened on July 7, 2017, St. Timothy (along with its branch in Discovery Bay – St. Moses the Black) is an Eastern Orthodox Church belonging to the ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia). The Orthodox Church is the oldest and second largest of the three main Christian groups in the world (the others being the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant Denominations).
The year prior to establishing the church, William started a Bible study at his home. The focus of the Wednesday evening meetings was on teaching others about Jesus Christ of Nazareth. With both mature and young Believers attending, membership grew to approximately 40 persons, half of whom attended regularly. Affectionately called “God Squad”, they met faithfully until Covid-19 protocols in 2020 prevented groups of people from gathering.
SUN FOR ICE, SEA FOR SNOW
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, whohave been called according to his purpose” (Roman 8:28 KJV).
In the height of the Corona Virus pandemic, a medical situation arose that caused William and his wife, Victoria, to return to Ukraine where she was born. With their 5 young children in tow: Alexia – 15, Leigha -11, Liam – 8, Maya – 6, Timothy – 3;the family took on the arduous task of pulling up stumps in Jamaica to travel to Eastern Europe in the middle of Winter 2021! It was the children’s first time visiting their mother’s land, and William fell in love – again! Ukraine did not daunt him! It was fascinating! A born entrepreneur and an accomplished banker, he was accustomed to embracing challenges. His most recent business venture, Brawta Living had stretched them, but 7 years on, they were still standing strong (Brawta is an e-commerce enterprise that provides discounted offers within the lifestyle industry, with emphasis on hotels, restaurants, spas, excursions and online educational courses).
If Victoria could have switched ice for sun, snow for sea; William reasoned that he surely could survive the language complexity and the freezing temperatures into which his family walked that January day; after all, winter would not last forever! The children loved the snow, and with the medical emergency successfully overcome, they took to the outdoors like little Eskimos.
Their grandmother made them play with her goats and cats, and when the time got warmer, they ate plums and apples straight from their trees.
COLD WAR TENSION QUICKLY RE-HEATS
Towards the close of 2021, the globe was looking forward to celebrating the imminent end of Covid-19, but Russia began to rumble at emerging international political developments. They were not happy with Ukraine’s contemplating to join NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), and with Cold War tension rapidly re-heating; William and Victoria started assessing the “what-ifs” of Russia’s threat to invade Ukraine.
They did not live far from Kiev (Ukraine’s capital), and heading as far west to the country’s border with Poland seemed a wise idea; but Victoria’s mother decided to remain. Departing without her was inconceivable, so the family prayed – by faith, they would do whatever God instructed. When He said, “Leave”, they obeyed. Broken, but yielded, William, Victoria and the five rug rats (as William lovingly called them), packed their luggage and drove for almost an entire day in mid-February 2022 to get to Lviv.
WE PRAYED THAT DAY
There was no indication that the people in Ukraine expected Russia to strike. As a matter of fact, the day before they actually did (February 24), the streets of Lviv were busy as usual. There was no panic buying; people were going about their usual business. The Massias family went on an educational tour to a community that had been re-created to mimic life several centuries before.
It was winter again and William was especially thankful that they all had had prior experience of the season, so they knew what to expect. He and Victoria parted ways briefly – her thoughts were on her mother, and she wanted to tarry a while longer at a church to pray.
‘Ironically’, it was Wednesday and William was expecting a call from a dear friend who sometimes had assisted him with Wednesday evening Bible studies back in Jamaica. His destiny helper wanted to hear his voice and pray with him. Victoria returned soon enough. It had gotten even colder outdoors with night swiftly advancing. The children all looked happy and cosy, making every minute of their ‘screen time’ before their mother came back to “stop the clock”.
Nothing could have prepared the family for the scene that would unfold less than 12 hours later when President Putin of Russia declared war on Ukraine on February 24, 2022. His invasion of the independent nation, headed by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, sent shock waves through the 40 million Ukrainian residents, causing thousands (including William’s 7-member family), to flee in the dead of winter toward the Polish border.
Readers, from this point forward, what you will read are notes that William wrote at different intervals while journeying towards Poland. They have been edited only slightly so you can appreciate the tremendous trauma experienced by persons who suddenly find themselves in a refugee crisis. Hopefully, you will also be able to identify the more obvious points of the journey when God intervened miraculously in William’s and Victoria’s plight.
William wrote (on February 26)
Family, we so appreciate the prayers, love and concern for us. Our last 24 hours were horrible, sad and just something only the movies we’ve seen bring to life; but we lived it. If Putin had any idea what displacement and sadness he has done here to families, by experiencing half of what we went through over 24 hours, he would never have started this selfish and unprovoked war against the Ukrainian people.
I am going to try and paint the best picture in two parts to give you a sense of our journey. Let me try and share the essence of the last 24 hours without sleep in below 0 Celsius weather, with 5 children – tired, hungry amidst this blistering cold. I wrote this very fast and did not check back as I wanted to keep you all updated.
TAXI DRIVERS VARY LITTLE
We began with our taxi driver who drives carefully, but worse than any Kingston taxi man…breaking all lines of traffic, and boy, I have never seen such lines in my life as it appears that all Ukrainians were heading for the border. At about 20 km from the border, we got stopped by police who said, “No further”. We all got out and bid Uri goodbye and started our walk, joining thousands of Ukrainians, pulling their suitcases on the highway.
PUSH, PULLED, ELBOWED…THEN STUCK
After a while, we checked with some soldiers and they told us that a bus could bring us closer [to the border]. We sat waiting in long lines, watching the breaking of lines as people in despair were pushing to get on a bus. Finally, it was our time as we were 10 [rows of people] deep as the indiscipline behaviour began. I had to throw away all I knew about being a gentleman, and with Vicky in tow with 5 kids, 2 large 100-pound suitcases, and 6 carry-ons [luggage], we pushed, pulled, elbowed all who got in the way…pushing Vicky and the kids on first, and me barely being able to pull these two heavy grips and getting them on.
This was a special school-bus type [vehicle], that was allowed to drive on the opposite side to the border. We could not believe how blessed we were, and in our quest, the bus had to go on the soft, muddy grass to avoid oncoming vehicles. As the driver tried returning to asphalt, I heard the tires spinning, resulting in us being stuck and at the end of our bus journey!
We all started to walk and heard it was 7 km left, so I encouraged the team and said, “Let’s do it!” We found out later it was not 7 km, but about 15 km left. We walked and walked and walked. I had Timothy strapped to one of the hundred-pound suitcases, pulling along. This was not a level road and had many hills on which we struggled, but we also had many downhills. God knew we could not go anymore, and as we struggled, there passed a big guy with a big cargo van. He shouted out to us in Ukrainian, “Come and let me take you!”
Wow! What a blessing! This was when we found out he drove us about 5 more km and let us off when all roads were now grid-locked. We started to walk again and came in a line with thousands of people waiting to go across. We passed them all and went to the front of what we believed to be the line. They had barriers up and soldiers making sure no one joined from the front. We saw a section with women and children, and God moved the soldiers to attend to some men trying to break the line. My wife thought this was our opportunity to join. I said, “Sister, lead the way.” As we got past the barrier, the soldiers came back and reset the blockade with us already inside. We were rejoicing, not realising that it was too early to jump for joy.
FORTUNATELY, THE BABY FELL
Prior to this, we watched thousands of young wives with kids say goodbye to their husbands, hysterically crying – it mashed me up so badly, watching this, as all men 18 – 60 years of age could not go as they were all ordered to go back to fight in the war. As we stood in this line, we inched ourselves closer to a small gate. I pushed Vicky and the kids first toward the gate. Leigha was just before me and the crowd was so thick and pushing aggressively.
I took Timmy off my suitcase and handed him to Leigha. Just as I reached back to get my suitcase, a young girl holding a 1-year-old baby just could not hold the [child] any longer and the baby fell from her tired arms. I let go my two heavy suitcases and caught the baby. She looked at me and said, “Help me” as she fell [to] the ground. So, I am holding this stranger’s baby, while looking up and can’t see my family!!
Now, for the few hours that we stood in this family line with total disorder, soldiers were coming in and removing all males without children, as this was not the line for them. [It was] women and children first. I also had handed Vicky all the passports. I looked up and saw them all on the other side of the fence and I am now 15 [rows of] people deep and 100 across, pushing and shoving to get pats a 4-foot-wide gate with 4 soldiers with guns sticking into faces of unruly people. Lots of fights breaking out in our sardine-type accommodations.
Now, imagine my predicament, family on the other side. I have no passport and now a male alone with mostly women and children striking, like me, to get to the other side. As I pushed in my un-gentleman ways; all the women, with some strapped [to their] husbands, started to push me and block me from advancing. Remember, I also have two 100-pound suitcases.
EYE CONTACT – THE GRACE OF GOD
I saw Leigha and tried using the light on my phone to signal her. She saw me, and Vicky calls me [from her phone], crying; and all the children [are] crying as Vicky explained that the soldiers told her to move along no matter how much she told them her husband was left behind. They had no care or concern as the crowd was thick and full of these excuses. I said my Jesus prayer over and over, “LORD, don’t let me come this far to now get separated.” After a long while, I got to about 5 deep only to see [a] soldier sticking a loaded M-16 rifle into the guy in front of me, while another soldier is gun butting the guy to my left as they were stepping over mothers and babies to get through the gate.
By the grace of God, I made eye contact with the soldier in the middle who had his gun pointed up in the air. I put up 5 fingers and said as loudly and politely as I could, “Sir, I have 5 children who about an hour ago went over without me!” Prior to this, when they [had] told Vicky and the kids to leave, they moved away and were looking on at a distance, but not without hysterically crying to this [same] soldier in particular, the one with whom I was now [speaking]. He remembered and looked at me and beckoned me to come forward. I could not move as both suitcases were being trampled on and [there were] mothers holding me back so that they could go through.
MY CHAMPION CHILDREN
I know that at this point I was praying earnestly, asking God to give me the strength. I pulled with all that I had and one suitcase came with me and I went through the gate. But now, the other one wasn’t [with me] and “mi nah leave it”. I saw the handle and grabbed it, and I was pulling and pulling when I felt Leigha hug me from behind, pulling me, and together we were able to get past gate number one. Vicky and all the kids came running, all crying hysterically, and we all hugged for what seemed like an eternity as the soldiers turned and told us to hurry and leave the area.
William wrote (Saturday, February 26, 3pm EET, 8:00am EST)
AN UNFORTUNATE TWIST
There is an unfortunate twist to the second part of our journey which we were not expecting at all. So, after getting past the first gate, we thought it would be easier going until we came around more people packed like sardines in a cage as big as half of a football field. Again, we went to the front of the line and spoke to soldiers who told us they had no special arrangement at this next step. So, we joined at the back of the line and waited and waited and waited…all night in the freezing cold.
As the sun started to rise, and our kids are cold and just can’t stand it anymore, and after numerous trampling incidents and fights, we heard someone say, “They have set up a special line for children, 3 and under”, which Timothy falls into [being 3 years old]. People were boring into our lines and just totally out of control. We decided to go look for the children’s line and saw a worst situation than the line we just came out of, as the line was not moving and people were putting their luggage and kids over barbed wire fences into another waiting area, [for] the gate was not being properly manned.
WHY ARE THEY TURNING BACK?
The government here was just not prepared for this mass number of desperate people. All kids [are] tired and frozen with barely any sleep. The irony is earlier in the day when we were walking on the highway towards the border, we saw [a] considerable number of Ukrainians walking on the other side heading back from the border into Ukraine – I said to Vicky, “Why are so many people heading back? I wonder if they were rejected”. But it appeared to be mostly families, so it just didn’t seem plausible. Now I am fully understanding what happened to them as we also have taken the same route.
By the way, no bathroom facilities – so all kids were champions, but we had a few leaks. So, they were cold and getting really tired and hungry. By the way, this would be just the second step before getting to the Polish gate, and since we spent the entire night standing in a line that hardly moves – can you imagine the next cage to get into Poland when documents will have to be checked and approved?! I am sure another 24 hours of unreal circumstances. Now I fully understand what refugees in other countries have gone through
AS MUCH AS WE NEED TO GET OUT…
I looked at Vicky and said, “As much as we need to get out of Ukraine, I will not be putting our kids and luggage over that high barbed wire fence.” I [couldn’t] even lift up the two 100-pound suitcases. Fortunately, to the right of us, we saw soldiers escorting families out of the cage to formally enter back into Western Ukraine. We joined the line and followed them out as I can’t begin to share the extended horror that we would have to endure with 5 children and all our luggage. It was total disorder, dangerous and this massive migration is not at the moment set up for families, despite so-called “priority lines” which I see as death traps.
Our plan is to get [to] a hotel near the border, but as fate would have it, no hotels available, so we decided to come to a bus station and warm up the kids and plan our next steps. I am again attempting to contact the US embassy in Poland and also to speak to the Polish Consulate in Jamaica to see if any special privileges can be arranged, [if] that other option is not feasible.
So, we are truly trapped and homeless at this time – but please, we ask you to try and not worry too much, but instead keep us in your prayers as it means a lot. The bus station is warm, close to the border with other families packed inside with us. So, despite not crossing over into Poland, I believe we are in the safest place in Ukraine at the moment. I could not make up this type of a story even if I had the help of Stephen Spielberg!
Vick and I have not slept and we are about to get some food – Rug rats are doing well and are all champions, so continue to pray for us to continue in our faith while knowing without a doubt [that] all is in God’s hands. Pray for Ukraine.
A GOOD SAMARITAN
Sunday Feb 27, 2022 – 1 pm
God’s angels allowed us to meet a good Samaritan last night at the bus depot in Ukraine and she would not let us sleep there as there were no rooms at the inn, so she brought us and another family to her restaurant and converted it with beds.
We were fed an amazing diner and we all slept deeply after not sleeping for over 36 hours. We had breakfast and we are ready and rested to begin another journey towards Poland. I have been in touch with our Prime Minister Holness and our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kamina Johnson [Smith] who are all doing everything to help us.
Your prayers and concern have encouraged us so much and my soul is in joy and peace despite all the pain and sadness I have encountered here in Ukraine. I know without a doubt that this is all about giving God the glory, so please continue to offer up your prayers as we continue with you all on our journey together. Love you all…❤️
William’s three children from a previous marriage – Joshua, Natalia and Christian; his and Victoria’s mothers and other relatives, church, God Squad, well-wishers from all across Jamaica, Ukraine and the globe who were following and praying the family through their ordeal, were relieved when the 7-member Massias family completed their journey on February 27, 2022. William’s report was four words long: “WE ARE IN POLAND.” To God be the glory.