As war enters third year, Ukrainians helped by church number in the millions

Basilian Sister Lucia Murashko talks with volunteers Denys Kuprikov, left, and Ivan Smyglia, far right, in Zaporizhzhia in southeast Ukraine Feb. 7, 2023, where they planned to distribute humanitarian aid along the front in Russia's war against Ukraine. (OSV News photo/Konstantin Chernichkin, CNEWA)

KRAKOW, Poland (OSV News) ─ A group of women from a little village between Kharkiv and Izium in eastern Ukraine decided they were fed up with landmine danger in their village, preventing residents from living their lives in some normality amid war.

So with materials as simple as a plank and a long string, they constructed their own equipment and demined a part of the village.

"They really show the incredible resilience of this country!" Father Leszek Kryza told OSV News.

Father Kryza travels to Ukraine at least once a month, especially to the devastated eastern regions. In January, he visited the "mine-blowing" women not only because of their sheer bravado, but because the Polish bishops' Office for Helping the Church in the East led by Father Kryza equipped them with sewing machines so that -- despite ongoing war -- they have a job.

Once the war started, the women sheltered with the Orionine sisters in Korotych and it was the sisters who signaled Father Kryza, who then alerted his friends in the church in Italy, and that's how supplies and sewing machines eventually landed in eastern Ukraine.

"It has worked like that since Feb. 24, 2022," he told OSV News, referring to the start of a full- scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"It's a constant chain of good hearts," he said.

Entering the third year of war several church institutions wrapped their aid effort in "two years of war" reports, showing that millions of people have been saved thanks to the Catholic Church.

A million people -- whether Ukrainian refugees in Poland or those inside Ukraine -- have been helped by Caritas Poland. In 2023 alone, the aid was worth $37 million.

Another 1.6 million have been helped by the Knights of Columbus, with $22.3 million raised for Ukraine since 2022.

CNEWA, or Catholic Near East Welfare Association, rushed $5,8 million in emergency funds over the past year to church-led relief efforts in Ukraine and in neighboring countries receiving those fleeing the missiles.

The Vatican sent 240 trucks with supplies to Ukraine over the past two years, with $2.2 million of its charity funds dedicated to Ukraine just in 2022.

Asked what percentage of help for 17 million Ukrainians, including 5 million of those internally displaced, comes from the Catholic Church, Father Kryza said, "I tried to calculate it once, but it's impossible! Because it's not that you'll gather data from Caritas, Knights of Columbus, the Vatican and other 'big actors.' It's the orders, female and male congregations, individual priests, volunteers spread across Ukraine, it's just one big church on the front lines."

Father Luca Bovio, an Italian Consolata Missionary who works next door to Father Kryza in Warsaw, in the Polish branch of Pontifical Mission Societies, told OSV News that it's an "incredible international chain" of aid. "When the war started, people from Africa, Canada and several European countries called me, and said, 'We want to help, where do we send the funds or supplies?' So I knocked on my neighbor’s door -- Father Leszek, for whom Ukraine is another home, and that's how since his first trip after February 24, we're in this together!"

If numbers hide the concrete faces of people aided by the church, Polish Dominican Sister Mateusza Trynda, who is working in the western Ukraine city of Zhovkva, has plenty to talk about.

Sister Mateusza was on front pages of Polish media when the war started, pictured with a ladle and huge pot of soup, standing in the middle of a field next to the road leading to the Ukrainian border with Poland.

Now she said the help looks different -- but the needs are just as great.

"We distributed aid packages to 700 people in February, but in the war's peak moment we handed aid to a group of 2,500 internally displaced people regularly," she told OSV News.

"We distribute everything that is needed for life. So there's food, clothing, furniture, mattresses, pillows, quilts, dishes, heaters, irons," she said.

All is needed -- a sentence repeated over and over again from Kyiv to the Vatican.

"In one of our trucks we had thousands of jeans. One was full of chairs. And in one we sent hundreds of electric shavers," Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity and papal almoner, told OSV News.

"The war is not ending. The needs are huge. I am told by Ukrainians all the time, 'We need everything.' Everything," he said, adding that the shavers were sent to soldiers and that he recently received a picture of a female sergeant cutting the hair of her colleagues somewhere on the front line.

Cardinal Krajewski visited Ukraine seven times since the start of the full-scale invasion, including Zaporozhzhia, where had to escape gunfire in September 2022.

In the eastern Ukraine city, the Albertine brothers still distribute 1,500 meals a week. Their bakery is operated by the homeless they shelter on a daily basis.

Russian occupation authorities banned the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and other Catholic ministries, including Caritas and the Knights of Columbus in December 2023 in occupied areas of Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia region.

"That ban shows how important the role of the church is, and under what circumstances we can and must act to help those most in need," said Szymon Czyszek, the Knights of Columbus' director of international growth in Europe.

The organization delivered aid to the besieged town of Avdiivka before it fell to the Russian forces in mid-February.

"It must be said that such actions involve the risk of loss of life. A bomb exploded in front of the car with the Knights driving with help," he said. "They were lucky to survive," he added.

From establishing border Mercy Centers at the beginning of the war, to distributing 250,000 care packages with 7.7 million pounds of food and supplies, and thousands of warm coats to Ukrainian children in addition to running programs deactivating landmines, the Knights will continue to help, said Czyszek.

"No matter how tense the political situation over Ukraine will be, we won't stop. Because Ukraine is the embodiment of the suffering Christ -- we cannot be indifferent," he said.

"We can't be bored by this war," Father Marcin Izycki, director of Caritas Poland, told journalists ahead of the second anniversary of the war in Ukraine.

Father Bovio added that "the situation is as bad as it was at the beginning of the invasion, it's sad, but that's the reality."

Cardinal Krajewski emphasized that the church won't stop helping as it's the "pure Gospel" to stand with those that suffer, but that discussions in the West regarding whether to send or not to send aid to Ukraine are worrying him the most.

"Being divided never helps, it doesn't help any country, it doesn't help any church, and it doesn't help Ukraine," he said.

"I know so many people who still dedicate all their free time of the year to go to Ukraine and distribute help as volunteers -- the world needs to learn how to be compassionate from them," he said.

"It's so that hope doesn't die," Sister Mateusza told OSV News. "I met people with damaged houses that have nothing at all. But they still had hope. Because if hope dies, that's really the end."

Sister Mateusza said psychological help is urgently needed for people tired of war, and desperate for it to end, widows and orphaned children, but also those internally displaced and over 6 million Ukrainians living abroad as refugees.

She said everyone can help with prayer, too. "It's crucial. None of us in Zhovkva, and there are four of us sisters there, won't go to bed without saying a rosary for soldiers. We added those prayers to our daily order routine. Please pray, Ukrainians need you."

- - -
Paulina Guzik is international editor for OSV News. Follow her on X (formerly Twitter) @Guzik_Paulina


AOD-REC: April - Article Bottom