Russian forces have moved to encircle Kyiv, where multiple blasts were reported early Wednesday morning, and troops are laying siege to Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.
More than 453,000 people have fled to Poland to Ukraine in the past six days, according to Poland’s border guard agency. On March 1 alone, 98,000 people crossed the border into Poland.
The United Nations refugee agency has predicted that more than four million people could eventually be forced to leave Ukraine, according to the New York Times.
Poland, a Central European country with a population of 38 million, shares a 332-mile border with Ukraine.
A collection for Ukraine was held in churches across Poland on Sunday, Feb. 27, and a further collection will take place on Ash Wednesday, March 2.
The Church’s support is being channeled mainly through Caritas Poland, the country’s largest charity, and diocesan branches of Caritas.
Last week, Caritas Poland made an initial donation of 100,000 Polish złotys (around $24,000) in emergency aid. The funds have been transferred to Caritas Ukraine, overseen by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and Caritas-Spes, operated by Ukraine’s Latin Rite Catholic Church.
The most urgent needs include food and hygiene supplies, as well as mattresses, sleeping bags, blankets, and mobile kitchens. Polish Catholic dioceses are organizing transport for refugees and in-kind donations.
The Polish association of the Order of Malta is also helping people fleeing the war. In the southern city of Kraków, members are providing meals for refugees housed in hotels.
The order is establishing medical aid centers in several Polish cities, as well as at the train stations in Przemyśl and nearby Rzeszów, where there is a constant stream of new arrivals.
Pope Francis has a long-standing connection with Ukraine. During a visit to the Ukrainian Catholic community in Rome in 2018, he recalled that a Ukrainian bishop in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires had taught him when he was 12 years old how to be an altar server at Eastern Rite liturgies and read the Ukrainian alphabet.
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As pope, he has consistently shown his concern for Ukrainians. In 2016, he launched a charitable project, called “Pope for Ukraine,” that has helped more than a million people.
During his Angelus address last Sunday, Pope Francis called for humanitarian corridors to be opened in Ukraine and other parts of the world where there is violence, such as Yemen, Syria, and Ethiopia.
“With a heart broken by what is happening in Ukraine … I repeat: put down your weapons! God is with the peacemakers, not with those who use violence,” Pope Francis said.
Courtney Mares is a Rome Correspondent for Catholic News Agency. A graduate of Harvard University, she has reported from news bureaus on three continents and was awarded the Gardner Fellowship for her work with North Korean refugees.