In 2016, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s eparchies in Canada, at the invitation of Pope Francis, collected $90,000 for the needs of Ukrainians displaced by the war in the Donbas. The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA), an agency of the Holy See, has been sending these and other funds to Ukraine and overseeing their distribution and use. CNEWA’s partners in Ukraine, namely, the UGCC’s Archeparchy of Kyiv, Ukrainian Catholic University and Caritas Ukraine, have been helping the internally displaced people since the onset of the war in the Donbas.
This spring, CNEWA’s Anna Dombrovska visited the Association’s partners in Ukraine to see firsthand how the help is being used. Ms. Dombrovska visited a Caritas Ukraine facility in Kyiv which houses a food distribution centre, and centres for work with small children and children with disabilities. She said that the facility needs a lot of basic things like bed linen, utensils and tooth brushes because the displaced people often left their homes without much luggage and they lack money to buy everything they need. Ms. Dombrovska was “impressed” with the facility: “The atmosphere and people there are very warm, despite the difficulties that they are facing, they are very professional and very open. They really care about what they do. A lot of people in Kyiv know about Caritas Kyiv which has been around since 1993, and the Centre gets a lot of referrals, even from the official social services.” The facility’s management were particularly grateful to CNEWA for the medical supplies it provided because medical supplies are now very expensive in Ukraine. “It is obvious that the donations are getting in the right place and they are actually helping people”, said Anna Dombrovska.
This kind of help will be needed for some time as the inflow of displaced people from the Donbas is continuing. According to Ms. Dombrovska, there has been an increase in the need for housing on the part of the displaced lately: “A big wave of the displaced arrived a couple of years ago, and the Kyiv city authorities made a deal with apartment owners about lower rents for the displaced. Now, the deal has expired and the displaced still can’t go back home because the war is continuing. Many are facing evictions and the rents are increasing. NGOs like Caritas cannot divert their funds from food and medicine to the housing needs. So, many displaced families end up sharing 1-bedroom apartments with other family.”
Among the displaced, there are many middle-aged women with small children – those were the first that left the conflict areas while their men stayed home to watch over their houses or continue working. Anna said that there are a lot of testimonies that men who stayed behind never sent the money to their families while many women never heard from their husbands again. Another vulnerable group is elderly people, often with many health issues and very little money.
Many displaced suffer from a post-traumatic stress syndrome. While in Ukraine, Anna Dombrovska heard of cases where children developed diabetes from the stress when they had to hide in the bomb shelters. CNEWA is currently helping train three priests from the Ukrainian Catholic University on a mixed course in spirituality and post-traumatic syndrome. Last year, the UCU had a first camp for about 150 people suffering from PTSD, and is planning to continue the camp this summer.
Ms. Dombrovska also visited a soup kitchen for the internally displaced people organized by the UGCC’s Kyiv Archeparchy and Caritas at the premises of the Church of St. Mykola. CNEWA helped the Church renovate and equip an old building to house a parish hall. The Church hopes to get a permission to build a larger kitchen there. The two Caritas centres in Kyiv currently support about 500 people monthly, of them there are at least 100 children.
Carl Hétu, CNEWA’s National Director for Canada, said that the Association is also continuing to help develop military chaplaincy in Ukraine. The UGCC is developing its military chaplaincy on the basis of the Saints Peter and Paul Regiment Church in Lviv (Fr. Stepan Sus). Mr. Hétu said that the chaplains take care of the soldiers, as well as families who lost their fathers and mothers in war. The military chaplains are trying to create a sustainable system to support the Ukrainian military.
CNEWA appeals to people in Canada to be generous to its programs in Ukraine as it is moving beyond helping displaced due to the mounting problems faced by the elderly, youth, women and handicapped children in Ukraine. Carl Hétu said: “All these vulnerable groups are poorer today than they were before and their numbers are increasing because inflation in Ukraine has gone up very drastically. Many families are struggling to feed themselves. Our goal is to reach all those different vulnerable groups.” Donations can be made on CNEWA’s web-site or at 1-866-322-4441.