REYNOSA, Mexico (Border Report) – A Christian missionary’s duty is to provide for the physical and spiritual needs of those fleeing war and persecution. But if you’re Russian and you’re helping Ukrainians, that can get you in a lot of trouble in times of war.
That’s what two Russian women found out while assisting refugees from the conflict in Ukraine.
“The church that I am part of had some partnerships in Ukraine and I was part of this. We were supporting with food, clothes, etc. Because it is forbidden, we had to hide this,” said Maria, a former Word of Life volunteer.
But at least two people found out, and that’s when the threats and extortion attempts began. “One of them was a lawyer. (He said), ‘We got you. (We know) you are there. We will notify the Russian government, and if you want to go back, you have to pay us $3,000,’” Maria said.
She no longer felt safe in Ukraine and briefly moved to Turkey – but the threats continued. She said she received messages saying she would be “blacklisted” with Turkish Airlines and Emirates so she couldn’t get back to Russia.
That’s when Maria, 28, and another Russian missionary named Vlada, 34, decided to leave Ukraine and seek asylum in the United States. While awaiting an appointment with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, they are staying in a migrant shelter in Reynosa, a border town widely considered one of the most dangerous places in Mexico.
“I believe we are covered in the blood of Jesus because (in Mexico) we were around some very dangerous people and they didn’t do anything to us,” Vlada said. “We are grateful for God leading us, and we hope to find our place in the United States.”
The two women spoke with Border Report at length about fear, while they were still in Eastern Europe, of the Russian government finding out that they provided basic humanitarian assistance and spiritual comfort to displaced Ukranians. They said Christians face difficult decisions and have lost freedoms since the outbreak of the war.
Though they don’t know if they are being persecuted by members of the Russian mafia, people with ties to the government, or opportunists trying to take advantage of vulnerable women, they now see the United States as their only hope.
That includes life-saving medical care for one of them.
“I had cancer treatment in Russia, but it wasn’t safe for me to stay there,” Vlada said. “I want to stay safe, physically and (spiritually). It is also an opportunity to live in a free country because the United States supports freedom of (speech) and freedom of religious views.”
Their five-day stay at the Senda de Vida (Path of Life) shelter in Reynosa has been eventful. They have volunteered to interpret for other Russian asylum-seekers, including a woman who is nine months pregnant.
“She is about to deliver her baby in days or hours. It is important for her to get support now. Here, it is too loud, so the pastor said, ‘I’ll give you an address (for a place to stay).’ And it was his house,” Maria said. “People here are ready to help. It’s like the Bible says, ‘Give to everyone who asks of you.’”
The Rev. Hector Silva, founder of two migrant shelters both called Senda de Vida, said he has hosted migrants from every corner of the world, more so in the past three to four years.
“We have people from Venezuela, Central America, India, Congo, China and, yes, from Russia, too,” Silva said. Though he doesn’t push religion on anyone, he provides Bible study for those who want to participate.
“We are a Christian organization. We make sure the families who come here not only receive shelter and sustenance, but also tend to their spiritual needs,” the evangelical pastor said.
Maria and Vlada hope to be admitted to the United States and plan to join friends in Fort Worth, Texas. Vlada, a former schoolteacher and taxicab entrepreneur, would like to go into television production. Maria, who speaks English and Spanish in addition to her native language, would like to try acting.