‘Our hands have become like wings’: Catholic charity workers bring aid to Kyiv region

Caritas-Spes workers bring aid to people near Kyiv, Ukraine A Caritas-Spes worker brings aid to people near Kyiv, Ukraine. | Private archive.
Caritas-Spes workers bring aid to people near Kyiv, Ukraine Private archive.
Caritas-Spes workers bring aid to people near Kyiv, Ukraine Private archive.
Caritas-Spes workers bring aid to people near Kyiv, Ukraine Private archive.
Caritas-Spes workers bring aid to people near Kyiv, Ukraine Private archive.
Caritas-Spes workers bring aid to people near Kyiv, Ukraine Private archive.
Caritas-Spes workers bring aid to people near Kyiv, Ukraine Private archive.
Caritas-Spes workers bring aid to people near Kyiv, Ukraine Private archive.

When Catholic volunteers arrived in the recently liberated Ukrainian village of Vorzel, they met an elderly woman called Nina. She was standing in line for aid from Caritas-Spes, the charitable mission of the Latin Rite bishops of Ukraine, with her friend, Katya.

When the area outside the capital Kyiv was occupied by Russian soldiers, the two women hid in basements or the corner of a room as tank shells and rockets exploded outside.

“My relatives and friends don’t know what is going on with me,” Nina said. “They don’t know where I am, whether I am alive or dead. They don’t know anything about me.”

Vorzel is located about 17 miles northwest of Kyiv, next to the now notorious city of Bucha, where Russia is accused of killing hundreds of civilians. The village was on the frontline for several weeks until the occupying forces left around the end of March.

Nina and Katya’s children and grandchildren left in search of safety. The elderly women would like to charge their phones to regain contact with their families but are unable to do so. They live alone in houses without electricity, cooking food on bricks over a fire. All the windows in Katya’s house were shattered during the fighting.

Nina suffers from hypertension and cardiovascular problems. But despite all the suffering caused by the invasion, she still prays for the perpetrators.

“May God forgive these people and may he give us health, strength, peace, and his Holy Spirit,” she said.

“I am also a believer. I can’t even tell you how I keep standing and asking God: ‘Merciful Father, help us. Only you can help us! Jesus Christ, please!’”

Nina and Katya were among the recipients of five tonnes of food distributed earlier this month by Caritas-Spes workers.

Father Petro Zharkovsky, president of Caritas-Spes, said: “We cannot stop the war, but we can, at least to a small extent, alleviate the suffering of those we are in touch with. Our hands have become like wings that can stretch for kilometers and embrace people, give them comfort and hope. We are called to do this.”

Father Vitalij Uminski, director of Caritas-Spes Zhytomyr, explained that small towns especially needed aid.

“In boarding schools, children and adults with disabilities complain about the lack of food, which is simply beginning to run out,” he said.

“People need mostly food. They often have nowhere to buy it. We provided fuel to one of the parishes, because the parish priest could drive from parish to parish. It happens that petrol stations are closed.”

“There are many adults lying sick in our care and they need mostly Pampers.”

Seminarians at the local seminary in Vorzel have brought a generator to give local inhabitants access to electricity.

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Mass was recently celebrated for the first time in many weeks at the seminary, which was occupied by Russian soldiers. The liturgy was attended by people of various confessions, not only Latin Rite Catholics.

“People want to share their experiences, talk about emotions, but you can’t sense any grief or resentment in their voices,” said one of the religious sisters involved in humanitarian aid on behalf of Caritas-Spes Zhytomyr.

“The confession of those who came to help does not matter to them. They have a deep desire to turn to God together, as a community.”

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