Camping and Caring

Mariya Tytarenko recounts her experiences while reporting on the Druzhba (Friendship) Camp in western Ukraine.

It is 10 a.m. Photographer Petro Didula and I are attending a liturgy in the Druzhba Camp for children and teenagers in the village of Svirzh, about 39 miles from Lviv. We were invited by Yuriy Ostapyuk, a recent seminary graduate and subdeacon, whom I had never met before and whose cheerful voice on the phone (we had to call him a hundred times to find the camp!) surely indicates his friendly and easy-going personality.

Surrounded by children, a young man of medium height with light hair is speaking into a microphone in a loud voice. This man, who we discover is none other than Yuriy, welcomes and introduces us to the children as journalists from Lviv. All the children turn their attention to Petro’s huge camera; their heads follow him like sunflowers following the sun. The liturgy starts.

All together, 140 orphans and children from low-income families and 16 deaf-mute children are now staying at the camp. Approximately half of them attend the liturgy, which takes place in a small, shadowy yard in front of the main camp building.

The children are praying, yawning and whispering. Some of them furtively say “hello” to me and touch my clothes. No one dares to go to confession until Father Roman Prokopets says in his homily that during confession they will be meeting directly with Jesus Christ.

In response, a line forms to Father Bohdan Kulyk, who is sitting on a stool, hearing the children’s confession. One boy near me asks his friend whether Father Bohdan is Jesus, and they both join the line.

Yuriy, his friend Volodymyr Chuprin, and a deacon Nazar Balinsky assist with the liturgy. “What beautiful voices,” a teacher exclaims, and then asks the older boys to stand up from their bench.

Now it’s the time for the celebration of the Eucharist. Some children make faces, indicating they are not fond of the taste of the sacrament. Yuriy explains to the children that they should swallow it immediately and not hold it in their mouths until the end of the liturgy as happened last time. That made me smile.

The liturgy ends and all the children gather around the chaplains to play some long-awaited games. First they sing a few Christian songs with Deacon Nazar. I have the opportunity to meet Yuriy, and I realize I’ll be able to interview him and his friends only after all the activities, lunch and the after-lunch portion of activities – probably not until around 5 p.m.

Now, the children are having their “time to shine,” and Yuriy is a brilliant cheerleader for them. “He always feels what children need at any given moment,” says Father Roman. “Yuriy knows the games they will be able to play and which ones they won’t. Our secret in working with these children is simply in trying to be simple like they are.”

In 2009, Subdeacon Yuriy and Father Roman founded the Center for Orphan Care, located in the Mriya Rehabilitation Center in Lviv. Today their Center is managing three boarding schools and two orphanages for preschool children in Lviv as well as five boarding schools in the town and villages of Briukhovychi, Chervonohrad, Livchytsi, Zhovtantsi and Zhuravno. It also publishes a four-page quarterly called Visnyk (or, The Herald, in English). The chaplains usually conduct liturgies in different chapels in or near the orphanages, centers and camps. If there is no such place, they improvise, as they did today.

Their hard, day-to-day work brings them a great amount of joy, but also numerous challenges.

For more, read Answering the Call, from the November 2011 issue of ONE.

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