This year, Elena Beucă, a Romanian-American filmmaker, flew to Romania, like she does every year, for just 2-3 weeks to finish a project. She was supposed to be back in America, but all her plans had to be thrown out of the window because the day of her arrival in Bucharest was February 24th, when the war in Ukraine had started.
Her husband Dave called from their newly rented apartment in Atlanta where they moved from Los Angeles, and told her: “Honey, we can’t just sit back and watch. We gotta do something.” He dropped everything and came to Romania because the Ukrainian refugees started arriving at the Romanian border. Elena also stayed there to document what she was seeing, and to talk to the refugees who were fleeing their homes. This is how her documentary film Ukrainian Voices started. Dave himself got immediately involved in the humanitarian work. They’ve been there for three months already.
“I try to tackle the situation from the spiritual point,” Elena says, “while Dave is hands and feet involved with three churches and one hospital, helping refugees with food, donations, medication, helping the soldiers, driving refugees from Ukraine to Romania. Right now, as I speak, he’s in Ukraine.”
She shows me the view from her balcony in Cluj where the city is laying down in peace under the sunset. Too serene and surreal for a time like this when a war is raging nearby. So, I had to ask her how was she doing.
“I have been on a whirlwind but I am good. I’m excited to be in Romania at this time. Though, I have travelled quite a bit in the region. In the last months I have been all over: Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia.”
Irina VanPatten: You’re in the middle of this sea of emotions. How is this war affecting you personally, and the people around you?
Elena Beucă: Indeed, I got to see firsthand the pain and the fear of the Ukrainian people who lost everything. Then, I also got to see people who are very empowered. They don’t see themselves as refugees but as missionaries who have a mission. I met a lot of Christians who are much more on fire for God now than they ever have been. I got to see tremendous kindness that Romanians are pouring out onto these people. I have friends who offered their houses for refugees, not for a few days but for weeks or months. One has a one-bedroom apartment and took in five refugees. They buy them food and essentials, like toothbrushes, clothes, everything they need because most of them came with nothing.
If you remember, I made a movie about how it was to take a stranger in your house but to see how Romanians are doing it in mass, that’s a whole different level. That really inspired me to make a documentary about it. It’s crazy what is happening right now. Churches and people are so much more open. This war brought so much horror but also changed people’s hearts. People have a hunger for human touch and kindness. So, I started meeting with people, documenting their voices.
Irina VanPatten: What you’re describing right now is true Christian empathy. It’s so rare. Nowadays, churches have been badly politicized. You inspire me to have faith in Christianity again.
Elena Beucă: I’ll tell what I saw. There are Christians who criticize: “Why do we need to help others? We have a lot of needy ourselves.” I met a lot of those people in Romania. I just chose not to see them. But the true ones, that I call “true Christians”, they don’t have a religion. They bring people together. I chose to see it from this prospective. What I see here is a crisis and a despair but there is room for a miracle, and for God and people to work together. Sure, we can pull each other apart, and some people try, but the true ones that I call “the God’s people”, see it as an opportunity to show their goodness. If all I have in my heart is hate, I’ll give you hate but if I have goodness in my heart, it’s impossible for me to give you hate.
If I could just tell you about the incredible refugees that we met at the Sighetu border crossing where everything started. Then, about the people on this side of the border, both in Romania and Poland, who put their lives on hold and their jobs aside to help the strangers. Romania does a good job with refugees but Poland is on a completely different level. And they do it with so much joy. They literally say:
“It’s my job to do this. I was born to do this.” Why? What makes someone do that? I’ll tell you why. It’s the God within. Everyone in this time has a choice to step up and be who they truly are. So, if I am a Christian, or even if I’m not a Christian, this is my time to show what I have in me. If love is inside me, I will have to look for ways to help you. I cannot watch you go hungry or go without clothes”.
Irina VanPatten: So, you see how people are changing because of the war. Is it more for the better or for the worse? My feeling is, that the change is for the better. Or am I being too idealistic about it?
Elena Beucă: The good outweighs the bad, for sure, because a lot of people have been in between, where they were neither hot, nor cold, just warm. Now, the scale has tipped over, and the good in people outweighs the bad. I’ve heard a lot of the bad stuff, too, but there is a kind of revived spirit now, that God puts into Ukrainians, Romanians, Polish people, who stood up. Now they really care, they are engaged.
Ukrainians are true warriors. They are not afraid to fight physically. When we, Romanians, are not normally up to fight physically but we’re willing to fight spiritually. We have the kindness, the hospitality. For me, this kindness is as important, as fighting on the battle field because that’s where Ukrainians need help. It’s a beautiful thing to see that a lot of people came together to pray, to help, to believe. That’s the way I tackle my documentary right now- to show all of that.
Irina VanPatten: Tell me more about the Ukrainian Voices project that you’re doing right now.
Elena Beucă: I can’t tell you much about it yet. I started it with one plan in mind but it looks like it will end up being something totally different. It will, probably, be two of them. All I can tell you is that I realized that in this place in time, we are all destined for something big. My mission as Elena, the filmmaker, is to document when history is happening, and that’s what I am doing right now.
Irina VanPatten: What people do you interview for your project? Is it mostly refugees?
Elena Beucă: I interviewed Ukrainian refugees and Polish people, who host those refugees. But I also met people from South Korea, South Africa, China, Germany, Honduras, from everywhere really. One of my team members came all the way from Honduras to volunteer for my project. It’s very interesting, because I normally wouldn’t choose those people, and yet somehow, something pulled them all here for a reason. It’s an international mix but the Ukrainian voices woke us up.
Irina VanPatten: What is the main theme that you hear from Ukrainians? What are their thoughts about this difficult time?
Elena Beucă: They all say: “We’re gonna win.” You know why? Because they truly believe it. As simple as that. It doesn’t matter to them that they might not have what Russians have or that a lot of things are against them. They are more united than ever. You know, how we say that by ourselves we are just a drop of water but together, we’re an ocean? For whatever reason, Zelensky has a voice that penetrated their soul, and created an euphoria in believing that they can win. So, sooner or later, it shall happen because other people from outside started believing in it, too, and they joined the fight either spiritually or physically. Everyone has a part in it. This is how the little nation of Ukraine, became big.
Irina VanPatten: What do you think helps Ukrainians, both fighters at home and those who are refugees, cope with this big tragedy on their land?
Elena Beucă: The ones who are here, in Romania, they don’t see themselves as victims or refugees. They don’t have a victim’s mentality. That’s a big part. They see themselves as being send here for a little time, making a difference, helping people, then go back and rebuild. The ones who chose to remain in Ukraine to fight, I think, what keeps them together is their faith. Faith in God, their president and their believe that they are on the right side of history. Those soldiers are going to war not reluctantly, they thought about it deeply, and that faith tells them that this war is going to end in their favor.
Irina VanPatten: How about the Ukrainians kids, who are affected by the war? Many of them displaced, many lost their parents. Even their education was interrupted. How do you see their situation?
Elena Beucă: A lot of Ukrainian teachers, who are here, teach through Zoom, so many kids study online. Some of them even went back to Kyiv because the schools opened there. But the most crucial necessity for the kids, in my opinion, is the access to mental help.
I know that many Ukrainians, as Romanians, don’t believe in therapy. We need to remove that stigma. I would love to connect them with organizations who could help them through this process because a lot of them have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I met with a mom today with two kids: a 13-year-old girl and a 10-year-old boy. The girl is shut down. A gorgeous girl who, all of the sudden, thinks that she’s ugly, and doesn’t want to connect with anyone at all. They’ve heard the bombs exploding above their heads and they were kept in the basement for so long, that the girl has been severely affected by this trauma. The boy, luckily, is not affected. He sees it as an adventure, because he got to go to a different country.
Mental health must be the most important thing to focus on, as soon as the war is over if we want to have a healthy new generation. If we don’t deal with this now, it will perpetuate to the next generation. I am a huge believer in God but there are certain things that God can’t fix because he allows the right people to do their part. PTSD is such a type of stress that if it’s not dealt with in the proper way, it could last years. I recently talked to a church about it, that we need to find a way for them to talk to a psychiatrist, or with a therapist because they need to be walked through the process. Otherwise, it’s going to shut them down for a long time.
We can’t wait to see when Ukrainian Voices documentary is finished, so we can see what Elena Beuca saw with her eyes. Ukrainian Voices is a crowdfunded project, please consider donating to the GoFundMe.