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Voices From the Pandemic: In Ukraine, Offering Prayers, Food and Hope

Sister Yeronima Vovchak is director of Home of Hope, run by the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in Lviv, Ukraine.

Quarantine has dramatically changed people’s lives at all levels, and everyone has felt it. New challenges required new responses, to which the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in Ukraine reacted, because the call of our congregation is “to serve where the need is greatest.”

During the quarantine, 10 girls from socially unprotected categories remained in the social center of the sisters Home of Hope. Understanding the responsibility for themselves and others, everyone had to adapt to the new requirements and rules, so they stayed at home.

From the beginning, a daily common rosary prayer for overcoming the pandemic was added to the house’s schedule, because we understand that only trusting in God and humble prayer is the first and most powerful defense against this disease. Also, we started praying online all the Divine Liturgies. These common prayers create a special atmosphere of peace, give the ability to accept the situation with all its challenges and help others to overcome difficulties. Many people asked us for prayer and later thanked us, because faith helped them to overcome these trials without losing hope or despairing.

All this time, the sisters also dedicated themselves to serving girls: providing them with food, holding culinary master classes, organizing leisure and housework.

Also, the community of the social center wanted to live through the quarantine time — which this year coincided with Lent — spiritually, not forgetting about loving our neighbors. Therefore, sisters organized the baking of Easter cakes and various sweets for the Ukrainian military. Together with the girls, who actively participated in this good deed, the sisters also encouraged families of migrants in Lviv and other people of good will to join this action. Together, we have sent many parcels of homemade cookies and Easter greetings from children to our soldiers. In a letter to the soldiers, we wrote that we now have a war against the virus, but we never forget that the bloody war has been going on for six years in Donbass, where it is even more dangerous and where almost every day someone’s father, brother, husband, son, daughter dies. That is why we are infinitely grateful to them for their faithfulness and sacrificial love. We assure them in our prayer for them.

Sisters from the social center also made a lot of efforts to help people in need in the Russian-occupied territory of Donbass. Many people, including elderly, sick people and young children got into a doubly difficult situation during quarantine. Unable to go out to get their meager pension, to use medical services, often these people found themselves on the brink of survival because they had lost their jobs. Therefore, the sisters with the help of many sponsors were able to organize and transfer money to the occupied territories to buy food and medicines for the most vulnerable people. People with tears in their eyes thanked them for their help and expressed their gratitude for remembering them. Many of them, especially older people, said that they are often forced to buy half-spoiled or expired products, because they cannot afford anything else. For many people, it was a significant help to just survive in these conditions.

“Despite the great trials and tribulations of the Ukrainian people, the Gospel has become more alive.”

Sister Yeronima Vovchak

Another challenge during quarantine in Ukraine has been the great lack (especially in the beginning) of protective masks. And those masks that were distributed via the Internet were often much more expensive. Many people, especially those from socially unprotected categories, could not afford to buy such a mask because they barely had enough money for food. Therefore, Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate in Odessa began sewing protective masks with their own resources and distributed them to people. It would seem trifle, but for many people it was a significant help, and for the sisters it was an opportunity to serve and respond to people’s urgent needs.

One more challenge at this time was the transfer to online learning. Many catechetical groups and the Catholic school in Kyiv, led by sisters, continued to teach children through the Internet. Sisters were forced to learn new technologies themselves and often taught others to use them, but the learning process did not stop.

The community of sisters in Truskavets also actively participated in social activities during the quarantine. They visited families who were left without a living wage and shared food with them,. They also provided personal protective equipment, medicines, along with moral and spiritual support.

Ukrainians, who have been suffering from the war with Russia for seven years, have significantly felt pain, loneliness, fear, death, hunger and economic crisis. But during this time, society has also become more united; volunteer movements have developed and responding to the needs of others has become the daily “bread” for many people.

Despite the great trials and tribulations of the Ukrainian people, the Gospel has become more alive. There are many people who “give their lives for their friends,” who share a last piece of bread or a meager salary, who unconditionally and sacrificially serve the needy, and who, day and night, like Moses, hold up their hands to heaven, begging for God’s help and mercy. The time of the pandemic exacerbated existing problems, but also showed the brotherhood of Christians — and not only Ukrainians, but also many other people who have learned about the situation in Ukraine and now help in various ways. Therefore, may the Lord be glorified for everything!

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