Everything seems standard now, but Ukrainians will have to deal with the most terrible general in Russian history — “General Winter.” In the winter, temperatures quickly drop well below zero, and heating is a tremendous challenge, given the electrical infrastructure is damaged.
For now, the emergency is no longer felt on the Polish-Ukrainian border in the Polish region of Podkarpackie, where the city of Rzeszow is located and which immediately faced the massive arrival of refugees from Ukraine. But there is the sense that an emergency will return.
Władysław Ortyl, president of the Podkarpackie Region, explained to CNA that “the first wave of refugees belongs to the past, but there is the possibility of a second wave, and this is caused by the fact that in Ukraine, many energy infrastructures have been destroyed, and therefore the risk of cold, the lack of water and services can lead to further refugees.”
Although the massive arrival of refugees from Ukraine has effectively doubled the population, the presence of Ukrainians is hardly felt in the city. The situation at the airport, on the other hand, is striking. It is a small civilian airport, used since January to land U.S. troops, who pass through the so-called “blue gate” and have installed patriot missiles that proudly protect the runways used by budget airlines.
It is officially a civilian airport, but the presence of troops — about 500, a soldier from Texas told CNA — makes it part military airport. Several areas cannot be accessed for security reasons.
“When the Americans arrived,” an airport official said, “they wanted their arrival, their troops, to be photographed to give Russia a signal of a strong NATO presence on the border. But now, strategic reasons prevail with the war, and so does information transparency.”
The airport thus represents the suspended situation of the entire region, divided between being a sort of enlarged front and place of refuge for refugees, between being Poland and being so close to the Ukrainian border, between being in an emergency and having overcome the crisis.
Then there is the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) center, where Polish is taught to those who arrive because, they said, “Ukrainians are very dignified people. They don’t want to live on mercy.”
There’s a young girl among them who explains how she would have liked to stay in Ukraine, but the bombs wouldn’t allow for it. Not far from the airport, there is the medevac medical center. The facility, almost new, can accommodate about 20 people for hospital-level emergency care. It is funded by the European Union.
Bishop Jan Sobilo of Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, comes from one of the areas most affected by the war. He says that when he arrives at the front (he tries to go once a week), he brings food and has to leave immediately because “the Russian troops know they are there and start shooting after five minutes to intimidate me.”
“The hospitals are full of wounded at the front,” Sobilo explained, “but all the people have great faith in victory and want to go back to the front so that the fight and the evil and all the cruelties that we are witnessing do not spread [to] all of Europe. They want to block all the evil that happens here.”
The bishop recounted having visited the Holy Father with the Latin bishop of Lviv, Mieczysław Mokrzycki, two weeks ago.
“While I was waiting for the meeting with the Holy Father,” he said, “I looked out the window and saw that they were decorating the Christmas tree in St. Peter’s Square. And then I [wondered] if we could have the Christmas tree in Zaporizhzhia. But, of course, it won’t be there in the square, but we will prepare it in the houses and wait for Jesus because Jesus, too, was born on a dark and cold night with only one candle.”
The bishop talked about the time he consoled a mother who lost her daughter, beheaded in a bombing, and when a grandfather whose granddaughter had been raped and killed turned to him for consolation.
“Those who die show us that love always wins, as Father [Maximilian] Kolbe said,” he noted, “and even in this situation today it will be like this because, after the war, the world will be spiritually reborn.”
Even the Latin bishop of Kyiv emphasized this need for psychological support in the face of a senseless war. A person might be physically consoled under normal circumstances, he said. “But if a person is a victim of rape, we know that we shouldn’t even touch them.”
The Caritas centers of Przemysl have helped 2,500 people, have sent 280 generators for electricity, and have various warehouses from which they distribute food in Ukraine. For a time, at least 200 trucks departed from there every day.
As of Nov. 26, the Foundation for the Pastoral Care of the Family had helped 1,454 refugees, paying for about 44,076 nights at a cost per person of about $22 a day — a considerable amount of money.
Amid the drama and sheer humanity of war — and the looming uncertainty of winter — the Church remains at the forefront.
Andrea Gagliarducci is an Italian journalist for Catholic News Agency and Vatican analyst for ACI Stampa. He is a contributor to the National Catholic Register.