LVIV, Ukraine — The massive movement of women and children fleeing Russian bombardment in eastern Ukraine has brought hundreds of thousands of them to Lviv, less than 80 kilometers from the Polish border.
In churches of all denominations, schools, orphanages, seminaries and the Ukrainian Catholic University, they find welcome, shelter and hot meals.
Some stay only briefly as they prepare to queue for hours to cross the border. Others hope that despite the sirens of Russian air raids and bombing of military targets near Lviv, they will be able to stay in their country.
Father Roman Prokopets, an Eastern Rite Catholic priest and chaplain at the House of Mercy Orphan Care Center, said that while the displaced people and the volunteers helping them come from different parts of the country, three things unite them: “Love for their fatherland is one; the sacrifice is two; willingness to help is three.
Asked by a reporter what she would do once the war was over and Ukraine was victorious, Tetiana Payovska, who fled the heavily bombed city of Kharkiv, said: “I would hang flags all over the house (and) I would embrace my native land. ”
The House of Mercy kindergarten has been turned into a shelter and now has around 20 guests, Prokopets said. Catholic Press Service. “We had to make a kitchen from scratch in this house and equip a bomb shelter.”
Sofia Vasylechko, who had volunteered at the House of Mercy before the February 24 Russian invasion, said she knew displaced people would seek refuge there, so she went to help.
“I asked myself: why am I living?” she says. “I realized that living and achieving my own goals, doing whatever I want is not enough for me.”
“Now I feel needed and, in my opinion, this is the meaning of my life,” she said.
Franciscan Father Mykola Orach, pastor of the Latin Rite Church of St. Anthony, transformed a parish house into a shelter that could accommodate up to a dozen people.
Payovska is one of them. After two bombs landed near her home, she said, they grabbed some clothes and their documents and ran to the train station.
Hundreds of other people did the same. Orach said the displaced all report that “it was a struggle to get on the train at the station. Then they spent a day or more in difficult conditions on the train, standing in carriages”, although “they tried to find a place for the children so that they could at least lie down”.
In Lviv, Payovska said, they were offered shelter and a hot meal, although “we didn’t even want to eat after such events.”
Oleg Peniuk, pastor of the Central Baptist Church in Lviv, said his community initially made room for 30 people displaced by war, but now hosts 75. Parishioners are volunteering to help.
Tymofei Skorobagach, a young man from Kyiv, noted: “there are also child volunteers”.
Her mother, Natalia Skorobagach, said: “Pillows, blankets, everything was given to us. We have enough to eat, lots of food, the children can play in the playroom.
Father Petro Terletskii, an Eastern Catholic priest who teaches at Ukraine’s Catholic University in Lviv, said volunteer work has always been part of the curriculum for students and, after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and helped start the war in eastern Ukraine, the students began to look for ways to help, for example, by “providing medical care, protective equipment for the military, meeting technical and material needs “.
Some of the students, he said, come from areas under constant Russian fire.
“This means that students and their relatives are direct victims,” he said. “The administration immediately decided to provide dormitories for relatives in these areas of this military horror.”
Orach said what is at stake in the war is Ukraine’s desire “to be part of the European community, of European civilization”.
“Unfortunately, the price of this struggle is extremely high,” he said. While Europeans may “underestimate” the value of their civilization and their democratic values, “our people here in Ukraine, our army, are paying the price. They are paying with their lives.”
Reporting by Voznyak Production in Lviv for Catholic News Service.