Warmth, food and a bit of joy: Caritas of Ukraine in cooperation with the “Pope for Ukraine” action

A picture that one could observe on that day in July had nothing extraordinary on the outside. Children are going for holidays – usual fuss, smiles, noise, busy adults and children in anticipation of sea, sun and fun. However the burden on the shoulders of those kids is heavier than those experienced by many adults. Popasna, Shchastia, Luhanska Stanytsia, Novotoshkivske, Talakivka – these names of the Donetsk and Luhansk region residential areas are heard everyday in the ATO building sites. And the children live there, among everyday shooting attacks in the so-called “grey zone”. They go to school, help their parents, play with the friends and dream. Only their eyes look adult serious. “They live in the constant stress under the constant shooting attacks – says paediatrician Iryna Shapovalova, who accompanies these children, to the journalists. – These children don’t sleep in the nighttime, that is why they simply need some rest”. But children always remain children. They share their plans for holidays with joy, they want to make new friends, get new impressions, swim in the sea… 

This trip of 258 children to the summer camp in Croatia became possible due to the joint project of the Caritas of Ukraine and the Ministry of temporarily occupied territories with the financial support of the “Pope for Ukraine” humanitarian Initiative. Caritas of Ukraine was one of the first who responded to the special humanitarian action of the Holy Father Francis, by suggesting to the Technical Committee a row of different kinds of activities aimed at helping people injured most of all, living in the residential areas closest to the conflict line. Help, support and understanding – these words make essence of the activities performed by Caritas. It provides help to everyone in need, regardless of their political, religious and other views, gender, ethnical and social origin, language or any other features. Employees of Caritas give the helping hand to everyone needing social help and protection or encourage spiritual and moral renaissance of people. In these questions our goals become very close to the “Pope for Ukraine” Initiative. It is essential not only to provide people with help but also to understand, to support and to pull them out of crisis.  That is why doctors, social workers and psychologists accompanied children to the camp in Croatia – with the help of the local social services there were chosen residents of the borderline who were in desperate need of social and psychological rehabilitation.

A person with his/her needs has always been in the canter of attention for Caritas – behind the numbers of the humanitarian help provided there are complicated human lives. Within the framework of the “Pope for Ukraine” Initiative , Caritas was assigned money for helping people in the “grey zone” – domestic fuel, mobile humanitarian aid facilities, food packages for the most distressed. In particular there have been provided over 1200 tons of the fuel briquettes for 700 families, 500 families received electric heaters, 600 families received basic medical packages. All these numbers are connected with the common life winter preparations. However for the inhabitants of the residential areas along the borderline, winter does not mean holidays and presents. Fluffy snowflakes bringing joy to everyone, mean cold at homes here and the best present is not Saint Nicholas’s visit with the bag of sweets, but the visit of a Caritas social worker with fuel briquettes or electric heater. Those moments can seem like simple check signs in the lists, but each of them means people feeling warmer.

Since Caritas includes not only a national representative office in Kyiv but also a row of regional Caritases, many of which with the beginning of the conflict started to work on the East of Ukraine. Many grants have been given out through the regional representative offices of Caritas. However there is always the same approach –  a human is in the spotlight with his/her needs and issues.

Every visit to the “grey zone” for the  Caritas teams from Kramatorsk, Zaporizhzhya and Mariupol, organizations responsible for the Caritos of Ukraine “grey zone” projects, is a contact with new people, thousands of life stories of the ordinary people, lives of which were hit by war and who can still be helped at least a little bit. Front-line villages and towns of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, as a rule, are left out in the cold. Everyone who had a chance has left, there remain mostly only single mothers with minors and pensioners, many of which have pre-existing conditions.

Lyudmyla lives in Berdiansk with her daughter Dasha, lifelong disabled person.  She helps Caritas’ employees with the accounting and giving out the humanitarian help to the citizens. At the beginning of the conflict their house was  nearly destroyed but they continue living in the village. “I don’t want to live, – tells Lyudmyla. – We have nowhere to go. It would take a lot to make the documents, to pay everything out, find a job and schools for my child. Here we know everyone. So we go on living under the shooting attacks”. There is no school in Berdiansk. Dasha goes to the school in Vynogradnyi. Every day. In her wheelchair. We are lucky if we get a lift, otherwise it takes about 30 minutes for a mum with a wheelchair to get to the bus stop and 45 minutes from there by the bus. Dasha likes the fact that the school is small and that all children study in one classroom. She got used to it. Food packages from Caritas are supporting small family which is trying to survive among the demolitions.


Ninel Oleksandrivna is living alone. Her son with his family left for Mariupol long time ago. She has just received fuel briquettes from Caritas and tells us about her complicated life: “What did we do to deserve all of this – I don’t know. We used to have a calm life, never disturbed anyone. We used to have our own household – goats, rabbits. Our Zaporozhets was still working, not its all broken. My son used to go fishing to the sea. Now there are mines planted everywhere, so its not safe to walk out. Without humanitarian we wouldn’t survive here. These briquettes from Caritas is a real present! I had no idea how to survive all this cold. Wood and coal are too expensive now. It takes a lot to make the house warm. When there is a wind – the house is almost singing, so many sounds it makes. The roof is destroyed in many places, so I put plastic tubs on the floor to gather water during rains. When they came to examine my house, they said they couldn’t change the roof because its keeping the walls together. I don’t even touch the webs on the walls not to make it fall apart… When the shell fell in the garden, the wall got holes. Do you know how the reed pipe sings? Thats the way my house sings when the wind is strong… Ninel Oleksandrivna also receives from Caritas medical packages, she has permanent disability.


Caritas teams were working intensely on help distribution in Avdiivka, Marinka, Popasna, Krasnohorka, Zaliznyi, Andriivka, Nyzhniy, Toshkivtsia, Zolotyi, Rodyno, Novoivanivka and other residential areas of the buffer zone.


“For me personally it was very important to join the team work during the help distribution, – we performed home visits, talked to people during our visits, – says Maksym Bondarenko, Caritas of Ukraine project manager. – It is hard to watch children playing on the destroyed by shooting playground around the tumble-down houses while their parents hopefully ask about the long-awaited peace and beg not to be forgotten.  For us in Caritas it is crucial not just to provide material help in the form of briquettes or food packages but also to communicate with people by paying attention to them and reaffirming that they are not forgotten”.


Events in Avdiivka in February 2017, when the city was isolated from electricity, gas- and water-supply, and thousands of people were left on the streets unprotected, showed that one needs to be ready for mobile reactions on the unpredictable changes of  the situation. That is why with the support of the “Pope for Ukraine” Initiative, Caritas purchased equipment for three modular mobile stations – rapid-deployment shelters which, due to the Malta Aid Service, were provided with kitchen trucks, supplies for which were also bought within the framework of the “Pope for Ukraine” Initiative.


Help came from the Vatican through Caritas Mariypol and got to the frontline Marinka. A city, hearing war fires every day. No-one can guarantee that the newly-reconstructed houses will not be destroyed tomorrow. Reconstruction works go on simultaneously with demolishing – since these people still need to live somewhere and the benefactors deliberately take the risk, understanding that people often have nowhere else to go.


The reconstruction programme renovated windows in 75 private buildings and new plastic windows were mounted in the privileged houses. Caritas Mariupol has been working in Marinka for a year already and we know very well about the current situation. During the last 6 months it changed to worse,  the number of shooting attacks has grown. Regional administration started the renovation of 21 houses, mostly high-rise blocks. We work with the private houses. We are trying to help not only people but also an administration so that they could see where we work and where other organisations come in. Not to interfere with one another. It is very important for us’, – tells us Anastasiya Suleyina, project manager.


Lidiya Dobrynina, a pensioner, was forced to build one more stove in the house. Otherwise heating the room in the nearly-destroyed building would be impossible. Gas pipeline was destroyed in 2014 after the first shooting attack. All this time she was staying in the house with her daughter and grandchild. “June 24, 2014 the shell got into the roof. Our kitchen is broken too. The shell was outside in the garden, it got stuck on the tree. This tree saved us’’, – tells us Lidiya Dobrynina, who has just had new windows installed.


“Generally, in accordance with international organisations, there are more than 400 thousand of people living in the buffer zone. We try to reach as many people as possible and to help those who need it most’’, – adds Hryhoriy Seleshchyuk, director of the Caritas of Ukraine humanitarian programme development. – Unfortunately, right now we are witnessing that the help for Ukraine is getting smaller. Last year UN programmes were financed for only 20%, – many organisations on this background close their businesses, especially if we are talking about international organisations. On the other hand, Caritas widens its capacity for work and we pay maximum efforts to help people when they need it most. That’s good that there are such initiatives like the “Pope for Ukraine” Initiative, financing help projects”.