While we sleep, eat and go to work, care about our daily routines, plan what to cook for dinner, what movie to review at weekends and just live our lives – far away (and also very close to us), there are those who care of the lives and problems of other people.
They are volunteers of the Christian Rescue Service. Their plan for today and tomorrow is to take care of those who live on the demarcation line, to feed them, to make them feel warm, not alone and not abandoned by everyone.
CREDO continues to highlight the work of incredible volunteers of the CRS, and today our interlocutor is Andriy Chmilenko – Staff commander and coordinator of the Christian Rescue Service movement, a father of three children, a faithful Catholic, a man with a big heart. Together with his team, he is now implementing CRS projects in the gray area in collaboration with the Initiative “Pope for Ukraine.”
Andriy Chmilenko and Olena Kulygina, press-secretary for the Initiative “Pope for Ukraine.”
– How have you and your volunteers decided to take this step, as you actually live on the front lines?
– God put some enthusiasm into our hearts and it is difficult to sit still when you know you can help people and bring glory to God. Perhaps these words sound commonplace; but we live these feelings and they urged all of us to be where we are now, and urged to do what we are doing now. We are trying to serve people.
– What tasks do you see as top priority?
– Having arrived on site, we conducted the monitoring, made social passports in settlements, found out what the problem people had, and now we are trying to serve them, solving these problems: in their households, health issues, problems with documents. And most importantly – we try to support them, to inspire them, to show that they need someone, and especially God Himself, that they are not abandoned, that they are loved. We help them to establish a dialogue with God, and the dialogue between themselves – first in their families, then between the neighbors, and then in the community.
– Did CRS find any like-minded fellows in other organizations that would help and provide situational support?
– We work as part of CIMIC groups. This is the civil-military cooperation in within officers solve problems and issues related to the coexistence of military and civilians on the front lines and in the gray zone: they take care of permits, driveways, various permissions and other needs such as ensuring supply of electricity, gas, water and medicines. These are just wonderful people: it is an honor to collaborate with them, to perform our ministry and live among them. They are incredible; I sincerely admire them and want the readers of CREDO to know that we have many worthy and wonderful officers. In addition, we collaborate with people of different faiths. Most of them are open for contact and eager to provide support.
– How exactly do you organize your work?
– Our team has a daily plan. Now we are implementing one of the projects of the Initiative “Pope for Ukraine” – the supply of fuel pellets. We deliver them to towns and distribute primarily to people who cannot afford them. Food and warmth are basic human needs, and CRS is making great effort to attend to those needs. We are very grateful to Pope Francis for his help and support and that we can be mediators in providing this assistance.
The next project that we are implementing together with the initiative is the arrangement of a playground in the city of Kreminna, in the boarding at the orphanage for children. Furthermore, small projects, those that we can handle by ourselves, are being implemented on a constant basis. We provide medicines, food, clothing to the needy people. We express gratitude to all donors who have shared clothes, children’s games, books. In our CRS centers, in the location of volunteers, we have organized classes for children: decoupage, clay, board games, outdoor games, and the word of God. The adults, children’s parents, join in classes. Women paint plates, mold with great pleasure, having fun with children. We are also very pleased to participate – children are very open.
– War is in no small measure politics. The economic blockade, all that fuss around it and smuggling – has it somehow influenced your work?
– We definitely follow the news: this is our country, our people, we pray for clarity and understanding and pray that we have to know what to do, that we distinguished truth from falsehood – but here we have no time to be in a whirlwind of events because we have a lot of work and little time.
-Was it hard to gain good attitude of the locals, to establish contact with them?
– There have been cases of open rejection, there were misunderstandings, especially in our centers in Avdyiyvka and adjacent villages, but these are isolated cases; generally, people accept aid and most are open to dialogue. Over time, those who had been rejecting us, changed their mind – but not all. But our task is not to convince someone of something, our task is to live beside these people, to help and to preach the word of God, to live the Word and with all our lives to show that it is living and vibrant, and even more than that – practicable, because living the Word of God is beneficial. And for us it is also a discovery: we are the people who originated from the Soviet system, and are also discovering God and how He acts. Our task is to ascertain on our own and to convince others that living the Word of God is beneficial. The commandments are useful in this life and the good will of eternal life.
– CRS is an interdenominational organization. What is your image from the outside?
– War brought all people out of the comfort zone, changed their view of life formed in the Soviet era. Now they are ready to talk and listen, look forward to the meeting and seeking the word of God. And it is such a joy! We often ask who we are, and we answer that we are Christians; We are then asked about the Church we belong to – and this raises an interesting situation, because there are Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, and we say that now we are all from different churches. This often creates mistrust in people as they don’t think it is possible – we are so different and divided, but work together. But this is our way to show that people are united not only through a common problem, but also by the love of God and neighbor. And we try to bring it across to these people.
– Thank you for the interview, for your tireless work. May God keep you safe!
Photos courtesy of Christian Rescue Service