Pushing the boundaries

It may seem to someone that European countries are not interested in helping those who were hit by the war in the East of Ukraine. But having discovered the “Pope for Ukraine” Initiative of the Holy Father it becomes obvious that it doesn’t fit into the European idea of “deeply concerned” that continues to irritate many of us. Although the Western attitude has already exceeded the bounds of this notion. That is why I would like to introduce to you the Initiative that has been financing different projects for the citizens of the West and for the internally-relocated persons for a year already, and the “Caritas-Spes Kyiv” organisation, that helped children to forget about the war in the summer camps or by giving out new shoes.

Having met sister Anastasia Mazur from the Jesus Congregation and Svitlana Bodaratska, a “Caritas-Spes Kyiv” social worker, we decided to discuss typical fears that could appear when hearing words like “humanitarian” and “catholic”.

“When the humanitarian help is being given out, it is gained by the boldest and not the neediest”

 Personally for me there was a question of how exactly charitable organisations worked and for whom. Because sometimes it might seem that the final goal is making nice pictures or video reports. But then I heard about children hit by the war, about mercy and a great responsibility concerning finances turning into particular help. And speaking particularly about the service of Caritas Spes, we once again get a chance to clear about the rational approaches: shoes are purchased directly from the producer, additional sweets are received as the offering. All of it significantly helps to save money for as many children as possible to receive help.

S.B.: “ Very often we had parents of multiple children coming for shoes and they were surprised that shoes were freely distributed. Some were even crying. Some were ready to give a bribe…(Laughing..,- direct., author). Of course there were more wealthy people who were sure that we owed them. But I also saw those who after having heard about us, started to take children to our events.

A.: “We always ask them to show the documents. The only condition – those we help should be from the East. We keep in mind that most of the relocated people in need, live in Kyiv region but not in the Kyiv city itself. They make about 50%. But it feels comforting that people already know about us and they are not afraid to ask for help although sometimes they still get confused. When I see their confusion I start making jokes that the only form of payment here is a smile”.

“At the children’s summer camps they feed watery mashed potatoes and dissolving steamed meatballs”

What do we usually imagine when we hear about the camp food? Cold watery meals, probably even overbuild noodles. That doesn’t sound very appealing…  So I asked about the food prepared for the children at the summer camp.

S.B.: “Food, as the children say, is much better than at home. We purchased everything needed and of high quality. And when we noticed that some of the kids hadn’t seen sweets for a long time, then we gave out even more. On the last day of the camp I fell from the exhaustion and gained a bruise on my face. And looking like that I drew to buy ice-cream for the camp children. On my way (as a typical volunteer, who is trying to spend money efficiently) I decided to ask for some from the producer. Although my friends were trying to dissuade me because I wasn’t properly dressed and had a bruise under my eye, who would give ice-cream to a person looking like that? But I still asked to print out the official form and so I went ahead.  As a result in ten minutes I was back with the ice-cream. These are all volunteer habits, although generally the food provided was very well-balanced and of high quality, children and parents were highly satisfied.

“It is hard to get along with the children injured by the war”

S.B.: “At some point it was harder with the adults than with the children. The “minors” had problems like the lack of tactile contacts – for instance they wanted to feel someone combing their hair sometimes. We also had a girl with the the cell phone games dependancy – she even used to sleep on the floor by the socket to have the phone close and reachable, felt sick from the fatigue produced by those games. After the work with the psychologist and after her cell phone got accidentally blocked, the girl started to communicate with other children, socialise at school (with which she used to have problems). It turned out the this child became so closed from everyone after she witnessed a building being bombed. That lead to the dependancy… We made very warm relations with the children in the camp, we even still stay in touch. Neither children nor their parents wanted to leave the camp. We intended to befriend the kids and we did it. Some parents, despite the caution at the very beginning, were so highly impressed by everything that they got inspired to become volunteers themselves. Now they organise their own camps”.

“Children are forced to pray at the christian camps”

 It would be strange if we continued talking on the church organisation without mentioning the fear of the forced prayer. It is also related to the event in Zarichany. But there was a different situation in that camp…

A.: “There was no forced praying. This is not a church kids programme. We realised that the gesture of the Holy Father Francis was directed to all the people, regardless their faith or judgements. We don’t ask about confession when we help. Of course there was a holy mess at the church every day, but only those who were interested came in, no-one forced anyone”.


S.B.: “Children wanted to go to the mess. Even if they didn’t go at first then they got curious about the rest of them spending time inside. Some parents used to have prejudice about the questions on the religious topic. But having seen how everything actually happens, their prejudice simply disappeared. When the children asked us about our faith, we unobtrusively, gently talked to them about it, often in a game-like way”.

I hope this proves that its time for us to stop our fears (I am not the first one to say that) and start trusting God, people around us and ourselves. Ordinary people with their own issues, on the Holy Father’s request managed to collect tremendous amounts of money. This triggers the feeling of responsibility that we often forget: to respond to the orphan’s needs from the other continent and even to one’s neighbour, living on the same floor that we do.

Anna Vdovykovska