Anna Dombrovska is Projects Officer for Ukraine.
Since my last visit in September 2019, Ukraine, like the rest of the world, has undergone many changes: from a country completely paralyzed by the tightest lockdowns and desperately calling for the world’s help in March 2020 to a country fully adapted to the new pandemic realities – business as usual, work, events, travel, etc. in September 2021.
This time everything was back to normal with the exception that in some places people were wearing masks; not everywhere though. Social distancing existed only in places where it could be strongly controlled. The situation has changed dramatically in the month of October. Low vaccination rates – due to general vaccine distrust – turned the country from 100% green zone into red with tight restrictions for the non-vaccinated.
Restrictions for the unvaccinated introduced in the fall sped up vaccination, resulting in over 3.5 million people completing their vaccinations within one month. Ukraine entered November with 17.3% fully vaccinated people, which still does not provide enough protection from the pandemic for the country. In 2020, CNEWA provided over CAD 60,000 to support Ukraine in the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.
In Ukraine, circumstances are changing quickly and people learned to quickly adapt to them. Likewise, most of CNEWA’s projects adjusted to the new pandemic realities: seminarians, catechists, spiritual and psychological support groups went online; parish social ministry volunteers focused on producing masks and taking care of the isolated elderly. Once the restrictions were lifted, everyone felt relieved and happy; however, the work of some people resulted in sacrifices. Many priests and social workers who provided frontline help during the first waves of the pandemic passed away or experienced severe complications after encountering the disease.
As I draw inspiration from the newly emerged Caritas Zhytomyr and the amazing work done by its employees and volunteers, I could not stop thinking about Fr. Vitaliy Sydoruk. Fr. Vitaliy put so much effort into launching Caritas Zhytomyr in 2020 that his health simply could not cope when he got sick with COVID. He is missed by everyone in the Zhytomyr Ukrainian Catholic community as he passed away at the age of 47.
Like Caritas Zhytomyr, other new Сaritas branches emerged in Ukraine as a result of the 3-year nation-wide project called Parish Social Ministry supported by CNEWA in 2018-2020. The project inspired local Ukrainian Catholic communities to develop social ministry by providing them with knowledge and micro-grant incentives.
Within a year, Caritas Chernivtsi’s team led by the new director Fr. Liubomyr Ivanochko managed to turn the old shabby soviet-era building into a new welcoming Catholic social centre with kitchen, chapel, office rooms, space for inclusivity workshops and social laundry room. When the devastating flooding hit the Carpathians in July 2020, the Caritas Chernivtsi team rushed to the nearby villages with basic supplies and then later with punctual help support over 200 local families in restoring their damaged dwellings. Thanks to the Ukrainian Catholic eparchies of Canada, the UCWLC and individual donors, the Canadian office of CNEWA has been able to provide over CAD 73,000 worth of vital support to 400 households who suffered from the flooding.
Quite the opposite to fast-paced western Chernivtsi, in eastern Zaporizhzhia it took 20 years of prayers, efforts and faith for the Ukrainian Catholics to receive land from the municipality for their community. Such has been the reality in all of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) mission territories that still make up a good half of the country including the east, south, centre of Ukraine as well as a bit of the north and southwest.
Zaporizhzia oblast (Ukrainian equivalent of a Canadian province) borders with Russia and the occupied territory of Donetsk. Since 2014 the war has been an everyday reality in this part of Ukraine. Scarred by the loss of their sons and daughters killed at service in the Donbas war, parents now find comfort and support in their group based in Caritas Zaporizhzhia.
Despite all the troubles, faith brings hope to the hearts of Ukrainians. After the long pandemic lockdowns, being together is a very much appreciated blessing.