The Ukrainian Church is concerned that international humanitarian aid is dwindling just as the savings of many refugees are running dry. Bishop Radoslaw Zmitrowicz calls on the international community to keep supporting Ukraine, and says that prayer is the most important help of all.
The Church in Ukraine has been struggling over the past three months to deal with the wave of internally displaced people and continue to support its faithful during the war with Russia. But as the conflict drags on, the bishops realise that it is necessary to prepare for some of the longer lasting effects of this conflict, which will be psychological in nature, and may manifest themselves years after peace is established.
“The worst consequences of the war will not be immediate, but will drag out. The psychological, spiritual, physical and humanitarian consequences, as well as those on the family, will probably be felt later. The healing is a process. We have started psychological services in one of our houses, and a priest takes part in this process. Only God can heal these deep wounds. Only God can answer the question of why are we suffering in this way”, says Bishop Radoslaw Zmitrowicz, an auxiliary in the diocese of Kamyanets-Podilskyi, speaking during a visit to international charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
As an example, the bishop recalls a conversation he had only days before with a parish priest who had driven to the front to be with the soldiers and had been asked to bring the bodies of four dead men back to their families. These are traumatic experiences, that leave deep marks, and even so do not compare to what many soldiers have seen.
“One of the problems is with the soldiers who return, and nobody understands them, what they have been through. We have some experience of the problems coming from this, in small numbers, because of the war which had already been going on since 2014. We are working on a long-term plan”, he says, adding that the local Church has requested the help of international specialists on subjects such as post-traumatic stress disorder to help soldiers and their families.
Located near the border with Moldova and Romania, the diocese of Kamyanets-Podilskyi is mostly distant from the war, meaning life is relatively safe, except for the occasional missile strike, which the bishop says the people have become accustomed to. However, the influx of refugees threatens to overwhelm the local population and the Church, which has opened the doors of many of its buildings, convents and monasteries. The major concern at the moment is the shortage of fuel and a visible decrease in international humanitarian aid, precisely at a time when the savings of many of the refugees are beginning to run out.
“Many people are with relatives, though some people have rented houses, but now they are looking for cheaper places, because it is hard to pay the rent. They thought it would be one or two weeks, or a month, but now they see it will be longer”, he explains. The good news is that with summer approaching the need for fuel and food will also decrease.
Bishop Zmitrowicz expressed the gratitude of the Ukrainian people for the help which ACN continues to provide at this time. “I would like to say thank you for all that you do, it is wonderful to receive so much help from so many organisations, and ACN is on the front line of this help, and in helping people understand what is going on, so thank you!”, he says.
Victory depends also on inner conversion
During a visit to the international headquarters of ACN, Bishop Zmitrowicz stressed that victory depends on inner conversion as much as on courage on the battlefields.
“Prayer is the most important. This is not only a military war, it is a spiritual war, and it depends on our conversion. We do have some problems in Ukraine, and it is important that we end this war better than we were before”, he says, citing issues such as widespread corruption, and abortion levels. “It is important to understand the root of the war, which is evil in our hearts”, he adds,
“If you listen to the stories of the families, we see that the spirit of aggression can spread also to us, and does not only come from our current aggressors. We need conversion, and we have many examples of this prayer working, with the testimony of our soldiers”, the bishop explains.
ACN has had projects in Ukraine for decades, but when the war started, on 24 February, the organisation approved an immediate emergency aid package. This has been increased over the past three months, as many other projects, including a commitment to the reconstruction of damaged buildings, have also been funded. Besides the provision of funds and material goods, ACN provides information about the suffering of the Church in Ukraine and encouraging its benefactors and friends to pray for a swift improvement of the situation on the ground.