More than 2.7 million Ukrainians have already returned home from internal displacement within their war-ravaged country or from abroad. They have come back to find their homes destroyed or looted, and have spent all their savings on surviving the Russian invasion.
A 1,000 year-old monastery serves as an unlikely makeshift warehouse for essential humanitarian aid for these returnees and thousands of other vulnerable people. The aid has been provided by IOM, and now Father Vasyl, an priest of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, is getting it ready for delivery to those that need it most.
Thousands of blankets, towels, solar lamps, and hundreds of mattresses, plastic containers and jerry cans will soon be on their way to the Poltava, Dnipropetrovsk, Chernihiv and Sumy regions.
“God willing, the first car to collect this aid and bring it to people will arrive today,” says Father Vasyl.
He tells me more about the Church’s role in joint humanitarian efforts. “We actively work with our parishes abroad, with other churches in Greece, Spain and other countries. Ukrainian diaspora in the U.S. and Canada has been providing huge support. We needed to evacuate ill children, and our partners, friends and parishioners immediately mobilized and helped us purchase the ambulances.”
Fr Vasyl is both priest and humanitarian worker, but as a priest, he’s not so keen to talk about long-term needs. “We believe and we pray for the war to stop,” he says.
As a humanitarian worker, he elaborates: “Each day of the war requires something different. A few weeks ago, there was a need for ambulances, now there are other needs, mainly for food and hygiene items. Also, as there is an escalation, medicines lack in occupied cities and villages. Volunteers take responsibility and risk, collect medicines and go there as people are in a big need.”
We are speaking on a sunny supper day, as sunlight sparkles of the golden baroque domes, one of Christianity’s most sacred places. I ask Father Vasyl about the fate of church buildings in the war-torn areas.
“The war does not choose whether it is a church, a house, or a historical monument. The war destroys everything,” he said. “Priests were held hostage and tortured, churches were damaged. There are historical churches, for example in Chernihiv, which have a long history, which survived many wars and are now damaged. This once again proves that this is the about extermination of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people."
He looks at his church, and for a moment I feel the weight of history.
“We can survive this only by being united. We can overcome this only by helping each other,” said Fr Vasyl.
Since the start of the war on 24 February 2022, IOM Ukraine has refocused its projects, providing humanitarian assistance to displaced people and war-affected communities, directly and through a network of several dozen long-standing and new partners.
This assistance was made possible thanks to the generous support of the governments of Canada, Germany, and Japan, the USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund and the European Union.