Early in the morning of Thursday, February 24, Russian troops invaded independent Ukraine and the war began. The military action immediately caused a huge wave of refugees to move to neighboring countries. As of March 3, 2022, more than one million people have left Ukraine so far, according to estimates. Poland is hosting the largest number of refugees. Over the past week, more than half a million people have already crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border. Most of them are Ukrainians, but there is no shortage of refugees from Africa and Asia, who mainly started their studies there.
Poland has been actively involved in helping people escaping war from the very beginning. The biggest Polish humanitarian organizations, including Caritas Polska, run relief actions. Ordinary people all over the country are also helping by organizing donations of the most necessary equipment, medicines and food. Such donations are held in schools and parishes. Refugees are distributed practically all over the country to locations where temporary accommodation has been prepared for them. Very often, individuals arrive in cars to take 1 or 2 families to their homes. Companies send free coaches to bring more people to different places in the country. The Polish government is also very active in helping refugees. Additional hospital beds and accommodation centers are being set up. There is a website where refugees and those who are ready to help them can find all necessary information. For train journeys in Poland, Ukrainians do not need to buy tickets. The Ministry of Health has decided to cover refugees legally crossing the border under the normal health care system. This includes the refunding of medicines. The Ministry of Family and Social Welfare is working on a solution to pay benefits to those most in need.
The present situation of the Divine Word Missionaries in Ukraine
The Ukrainian SVD District belongs to the Polish Province. Our confreres have been working there since 1992 of 20 century. At present there are 2 conferees in Ukraine. Both are working in the western part of the country. Fr. Wojciech ?ó?ty SVD is a parish priest in Verboviec (Vinnica Region) and Fr. Adam Kruczy?ski SVD in Struga (Khmelnytsky Region). Despite the very difficult situation, they remain with their people and organize all the necessary help. – It did not even cross our minds to leave. We only thought of what to do to be with the people and how to help them – says Fr. ?ó?ty, who is also the District superior. The day-to-day situation in the region of Verboviec is tense, but relatively stable. The village lies near the border with Moldova, about 300 kilometers in a straight line southwest of Kiev. This area of Ukraine is fairly quiet, as there are no military or strategic infrastructure complexes. The roads are essentially empty now, with only the occasional few cars passing. Traffic jams form at checkpoints, as police check every car.
In Verboviec, rooms were adapted as a matter of urgency, normally used during summer camps for children and youth, which can accommodate a total of 50 people. – At the moment (March 3, 2022) I have three families – 16 people altogether, who will probably stay longer. We have enough supplies, we are not lacking anything for the time being – says Fr. ?ó?ty. When asked about the atmosphere among the people he stressed that he had never seen such pain and sadness in his life. – Many residents of our village work in Kiev and their families stayed there because they could not get out – he says. – Unfortunately, the son of one of my parishioners was killed in the war, who went to the army after graduation. He was my altar boy. Parish in Verboviec receives refugees from Kiev, Kharkiv, Donetsk. Some of the families stay for a longer time and some look for another place for themselves among the family. – What scares me the most is their sadness, their anxiety. All the time they are looking for their families, looking for their loved ones, whether they are still alive, whether they are safe – says Fr. ?ó?ty. – There are difficulties with access to medicines. In stores there is a lack of basic foodstuffs like pasta, sugar, salt or some groats. There is no fuel left at the petrol stations.
Not only Catholics, but also Orthodox live in the parish of Vierboviec.
– We pray together. We meet every day for Mass, the rosary, the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and we pray together – adds Fr. Wojciech. – You can see the devotion of these people who pray for their families and the whole Ukraine as well as for those who died. First of all we ask for prayer because prayer is the most important thing for us now.
O. Adam Kruczynski SVD works at a parish in Struga, Khmelnytsky District, about a dozen kilometers northwest of Vieboviec. He reports that there is no immediate threat of fighting in his parish. The territorial defense has asked that the church bells be used only when there is a threat of shooting.
– The people are very grateful that we have stayed with them – says Fr. Adam and admits that since the outbreak of the war very many people have attended daily services. – Earlier the Covid pandemic made the church deserted, but now people are very much present. They are looking for spiritual support in this dramatic situation.
The parish in Struga is very small and does not have the capacity to take in refugees, but it actively works with the local authorities who have prepared places for people in need of shelter.
The Mission Office in Pieni??no has launched a collection of funds to help Ukraine. In the near future the Mission Houses of the Polish Province will declare their willingness to accept refugees from Ukraine.
Contact person: Fr. Andrzej Danilewicz SVD, Mission Secretary of POL
(firstname.lastname@example.org, +48 691 457 775)