Agents of Hope in Ukraine

Ukraine entered its 500th day of war on Saturday, 8 July, amid a string of attacks. Missiles struck Lviv, which had become a refuge for displaced Ukrainians, as it sits just 40 miles from the Polish border, on 6 July. A month before that strike — one of which landed fewer than 600 feet from Ukrainian Catholic University — a CNEWA delegation that included Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari, president, Adriana Bara, national director for CNEWA in Canada, and Anna Dombrovska, programs officer, stayed at the university as a part of their solidarity visit to the region from 2-8 June.

“I thought it was important for us to be on site,” said Msgr. Vaccari. “First to just demonstrate to our partners the resolve of CNEWA with regard to what is going on there and our solidarity with the suffering of the Ukrainian people on every level.”

The trip was Msgr. Vaccari’s second to Ukraine since the start of the war in February 2022.

“I’ve been following all the news since the full-scale invasion broke out in 2022. … But at the same time, being there is different from watching it on the news,” said Ms. Dombrovska, who is from Ukraine and has family in the country. Prior to the full-scale invasion, Ms. Dombrovska made annual program visits, but this was her first time back since the war escalated.

“I was fortunate during the week … I didn’t hear any explosions, while many of our partners and the people in Ukraine not only hear them, not only watch them, but … have lost their relatives or have died,” she said.

Adriana Bara, national director for CNEWA in Canada, left, Anna Dombrovska, programs officer, back right, and Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari, president, front right, meet with a military chaplain at the office of the curia of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Lviv. (photo: Oleksandr Savranskiy)

The delegation visited programs run by three of CNEWA’s agents on the ground during their visit to Lviv: Ukrainian Catholic University, Caritas Ukraine and the curia of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The programs they visited included Sheptytsky Hospital, the Basilian Seminary and Monastery, a child care center, a food box distribution center and the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate’s House of Hope.

While visiting a shelter that housed approximately 80 internally displaced persons, they met an elderly woman who was displaced from her home in the Kherson region. Just hours earlier that day, she learned her house was destroyed by the collapse of the Kakhovka Dam on 6 June.

“She was obviously deeply, deeply grieved by this loss of her home and I wasn’t sure what words to use,” said Msgr. Vaccari.

“The only thing I could do was reach into my pocket, and I pulled out a pair of rosary beads that I’ve carried for years.” 

An elderly woman in a red dress and white headscarf holds  rosary beads.
A displaced woman from the Kherson region holds rosary beads given to her by Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari on a pastoral visit to Lviv. (photo: Oleksandr Savranskiy)

On their final day in Lviv, the CNEWA delegation met with Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk. The meeting was just over two hours and included discussions about the archbishop’s concerns for Ukraine as “humanitarian fatigue” sets in as the war continues. He thanked CNEWA for its work, saying: “Thank you for being our voice to the world.”

Ms. Dombrovska said the meeting with Archbishop Shevchuk was “a blessing.”

“It inspired us, it inspired CNEWA, to continue what we are doing in Ukraine,” she said. “It gave a big picture of how we actually are a part of that mission of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church to help people to go through this war, to survive and to continue to have hope.”

“That’s what the mission of CNEWA is. To give hope,” added Msgr. Vaccari.

Msgr. Vaccari plans to return to Ukraine in August.

Learn more about each day of the trip through audio reports and photos on the CNEWA blog:
Sunday, 4 June | Monday, 5 June | Tuesday, 6 June | Wednesday, 7 June

Olivia Poust is assistant editor of ONE.

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