Slavik Maiboroda and his wife Liuba are both Ukrainian but, until Russia’s invasion of their homeland in February 2022, had lived much of their adult lives as missionaries in the city of Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East. However, with their country now at war with Russia, they could no longer stay there and so moved to Riga to lead BBI’s Ukrainian relief ministry. Slavik and Dad have been friends ever since the early 90s, when they worked together in Khabarovsk.

Slavik is a trained social worker and pastor, and now, together with Liuba, travels around Latvia, visiting, encouraging and helping communities of refugees from Ukraine. They also regularly take van loads of supplies requested by their contacts inside Ukraine down to the border with Poland and, in the early months of the war at least, brought back refugees fleeing the conflict. They are both amazing listeners and are able to sit with people who have experienced great loss and trauma, as well as offering all kinds of practical assistance.

In April 2023, my sister and I joined them on a visit to a group of about twenty refugees living in a converted kindergarten building in the village of Kabile in Latvia. There were both families and single people living together in a very supportive community, helping each other in many different ways. We took boxes of donated food supplies and spent the afternoon together, chatting and getting to know each other using a combination of Google Translate and live translators who knew English and Russian.

Sharing food is always an important aspect of community life. In the Spring of 2022, my Dad decided to plant a field of potatoes on our farm in Ērgļi in central Latvia, with the aim of donating them to communities of refugees. In September Slavik and Liuba helped with harvesting the potatoes and delivered sack-loads all around Latvia. The people in Kabile were so happy to receive them when Slavik visited in November, and were still talking about those potatoes when we were there in April. During our visit we also discussed plans for building a greenhouse, which the Ukrainians had identified back in January as an important project for their community. A couple of weeks later the greenhouse was put up, and celebrated with a feast of shashlik kebabs made with lamb donated from our farm.

Much of the time, the people we met in Kabile put on a brave face in spite of the horrors they have experienced. However, on occasion we caught a glimpse of the suffering they have endured, and the pain with which they live. One poignant moment that remains in my heart is when Tatjana, a lady in her 70s, told us she was from Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, a city which used to have 80,000 inhabitants. The first battle over this city was fought from April to July 2014, between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatist forces. Then in August 2022, Bakhmut became the focus of fierce fighting which continues to this day. At the height of the battle hundreds of military personnel were killed every day, with reports too of civilian casulaties and war crimes. On 31 May 2023, the city’s mayor, Oleksiy Reva, reported 204 residents had been killed and 505 injured since the invasion began, with 500 residents remaining in the city (Wikipedia). Everyone around the table fell silent when Tatjana told us where she was from. Later in the conversation we experienced deep sadness when she said, “All I want is to go back home.” We all knew there was probably no home for her to return to and that at her age, rebuilding was not a likely option.

Slavik is a man of strong, compassionate faith expressed in word and deed. His love for people shines through in the deep interest and concern shown to each and every person he meets. A few weeks ago he arranged to meet Tatjana at the bus station in Riga, to help her get on the bus to Germany, where her niece lives. She was feeling very nervous about the journey, and her bus was delayed, so Slavik sat with her for more than hour, helping her calm down until the bus arrived, and she was then able to board with peace in her heart.

Reflecting on Slavik’s personality and gifts, I am reminded of Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages, two of which are time and service. Slavik places a high priority on sitting down with people, usually over food, and giving them his full attention for as long as they need. If, during the conversation, practical needs emerge, Slavik is always willing to serve by helping to meet those needs. Even though the reason for him being in Latvia is the cruel, devastating war in Ukraine, I am glad to have the opportunity to get to know him and serve alongside him.

Anna Roth

Growing up in three distinct cultures – rural Latvia, a farming community in the high desert of Central Oregon and the historic city of Bath, UK – has given me a unique worldview and capacity to appreciate the essence of each place and person I encounter.

I know and love people from all walks of life, with vastly differing political convictions, interests, talents and backgrounds. Whether creating a life story book for a Latvian young person who grew up in the care system, photographing a dusty cattle drive in the Oregon desert or collaborating with a model on a fashion shoot at an English beach, I make a connection with each subject based on deep respect for who they are.