A messianic rabbi who partners with a North Texas church has fled Ukraine and is now in neighboring Romania where he and his wife are helping hundreds of other refugees escape the warzone.
Rabbi Valentin Sviontek and his wife Tatyana said their lives seemed so normal until two weeks ago.
The couple was operating a messianic Jewish ministry in the southern port city of Odesa that partners with Gateway Church in Southlake. The messianic faith mixes parts of Judaism and Christianity.
"Everything was great,” the rabbi said. “Everything was good."
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Then came the Russian bombs.
"Our house was, like, vibrating,” Tatyana Sviontek said. “So I said that was enough."
They were among the first to get out.
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"In like half an hour we just jumped,” she said. “All we took was one bag, got in the car, and left."
They arrived first in neighboring Moldova where they stayed with other refugees, arranging lodging and logistics for more than 400 others who were fleeing.
"We started receiving all kinds of email. How can we get out? What should we do? What route should we take?" Valentin Sviontek said.
Moldovians opened their hearts and welcomed the flood of refugees, they said.
Then, after four days, it was onto Romania where they documented their journey on videos they posted to social media.
"Children are tired. It's about 4 o'clock in the morning,” the rabbi said in one of the videos.
They were followed by other carloads of people fleeing Odesa.
They visited a refugee center full of people, including children, sleeping on the floor.
"We are here at the sleeping place at the center,” he said. “People are asking directions and how to get there. You can see at night it's full of kids."
They remain in a Romanian hotel for now, but with little more than the clothes on their backs.
They aren’t sure when they can return to the country they've called home since 1996.
"As soon as they have peace and we can go back we want to go back just to help people,” Tatyana Sviontek said.
But like millions of other Ukrainians, they don’t know when or if their lives will return to the way they were.
"I think it's like a dream. I want to wake up and think this is not reality," she said.