In the last months, with the build-up of Russian troops on the border of Ukraine, the press has been reporting on the immediate threat of a potential military attack. “We have all witnessed high-level meetings between officials in attempts to de-escalate the situation and return to a path of diplomacy,” Tetiana Stawnychy, President of Caritas Ukraine. “And we wholeheartedly hope and pray that these efforts will succeed.”
The present threat of military intervention compounded by the pandemic and its accompanying economic stress is aggravating an already difficult situation in Ukraine. Often a forgotten conflict, the war in eastern Ukraine has continued for 8 years without ceasing; its reality lived daily by the people in the region who face loss of life, trauma from war, and destruction of vital infrastructure needed for basic human needs.
Caritas Ukraine, a member of Caritas Internationalis – a confederation of 162 members present in 200 countries and territories in the world – has been on the frontline of this crisis to help, serve and aid all those who are affected by the circumstances of the war, which started in 2014 and has taken more than 14000 lives and forced 1,3 million people to flee their homes. From the very beginning, Caritas was on the ground witnessing love and care for those who were suffering as a result of the conflict. “I remember the first days of the crisis, with the great number of internally displaced people (IDPs) flooding into our city – I knew that we had to help them. With the Caritas community, we developed the tools to do so. And many of the IDPs, once helped, joined our ranks to help others,” says Fr. Andrii Bukhvak, Director Caritas Zaporizhzhia.
Over the course of these eight years, with the help of the members of the Caritas confederation and other donors, Caritas Ukraine has worked to bring support to those carrying the burden of the consequences of the conflict, helping them to live in dignity. “Our programs have ranged from immediate food and relief supplies for displaced families to psycho-social support and home-based care in hard-to-reach areas, to water, livelihoods support, and community development. Through the community-based activities, Caritas Ukraine has helped people to organize themselves and begin to normalize social life,” adds Stawnychy. Since the beginning of the crisis in 2014, Caritas Ukraine has helped about 826 500 people.
Today, Caritas is concerned about the heightened stress caused by the current situation and the consequences that an escalation of violence would have on the ground in a country of 43 million people. The potential for greater loss of life; destruction of homes, hospitals, and schools; deprivation of basic needs such as water, heating and communication systems, and influx of millions more refugees is significant.
Caritas Ukraine is preparing itself to face all eventualities and is developing scenarios to bring support to those in need. “Today, we are continuing our preparations, making use of the experience gained over the last eight years – expanding readiness to different field offices in the whole territory of Ukraine. The key to our humanitarian preparedness is our mission-driven staff of the local centres,” says Andrii Postnikov, Head of Humanitarian Programs Caritas Ukraine.
“We have witnessed that amidst destruction, Caritas Ukraine’s practical expression of care, love, and solidarity has the power to restore human dignity and return hope,” adds Postinov. Every gesture of kindness and assistance lets other people know that they are not abandoned. In this difficult time, the people in Ukraine need your solidarity, support, and prayers to know that they are not alone.