By Deborah Castellano Lubov
Caritas is committed to protecting vulnerable Ukrainian children who suffer and are often the target of human trafficking. As the war in Ukraine continues, more than 6 million refugees have been forced to flee, many of them children.
This was expressed by Fr. Vyacheslav Grynevych, SAC, Secretary General of Caritas-Spes Ukraine, during a press conference held on Monday in the Sala Marconi of Radio Vatican, giving an update on the work of the Caritas Confederation and the humanitarian situation in Ukraine.
Speaking alongside Fr. Grynevych was President of Caritas Ukraine, Tetiana Stawnychy; Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Aloysius John; and the Director of International and Humanitarian Cooperation of Caritas Europa, Silvia Sinibaldi.
Since the beginning of the conflict, the two Ukrainian Caritas organizations – Caritas Ukraine and Caritas-Spes Ukraine – have been at the side of the Ukrainian population, providing humanitarian aid. All Caritas organizations in neighboring countries – including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova – are on the front line.
They assist the millions of refugees fleeing war and the many millions displaced, with the support of other members of the Caritas Confederation, local partners and volunteers.
The bloody attack in Mariupol shows violence and uncertainty
Alessandro Gisotti, deputy editorial director of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, moderated the event and pointed out that those speaking had met privately with Pope Francis on Sunday afternoon at his Casa Santa Marta residence, and with the Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Vatican Secretary for Relations. with the States this morning, ahead of the Archbishop’s imminent visit to Ukraine.
Alessandro Gisotti recalled that following the bomb attack on the Caritas center in Mariupol in which seven people died, including two female staff members, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, President of Caritas Internationalis, “decried the bloody attack and stressed to Caritas that it is really them on the ground and doing the job.
Aloysius John lamented how the life of the Ukrainian people “turned into a nightmare” overnight, and lamented the situation still “shrouded in violence and uncertainty”.
He noted that 1.8 million refugees are children and condemned the growing number of trafficked women and children.
Citing the latest official figures, he said, 4,000 Ukrainians have been killed, including some 250 children, since the war broke out.
The Secretary General said it would cost more than six billion euros to rebuild Ukraine and said that we run the risk of a global economic recession. He recalled that during his visit to Syria in March, he had already seen how food prices, especially bread, had already started to “skyrocket”.
14 million displaced people, 1.5 million refugees are children
Tetiana Stawnychy spoke about daily challenges and how members of Caritas Ukraine experience what we hear on the news.
“Nearly 14 million people are displaced. It’s one in three in the country, an astonishing number,” she said, stressing how “everyone in Ukraine is affected by the war”.
The president of Caritas Ukraine noted how each person is cared for “as a person” and not “as a number”. This “response with love,” she said, has created an environment where Ukrainians feel safe and protected, and even encouraged to help each other.
The Caritas official stressed that they are only at the beginning of a response and will need “continuous accompaniment” on the “long road ahead”.
Separated families and school gap
Pr. Grynevych addressed the dramatic effects of war on children, especially as his work aims to help children in nearly 25 orphanages and through other types of care.
He called for serious reflection on “what will happen when families can return to family life”. He warned that amid this endemic separation of families across the nation, some fathers have died and others who are still alive will never be the same after seeing the traumatic reality of war and death.
“There is also a big gap in education,” he said, noting that it started with the Covid-19 pandemic and was greatly exacerbated by the war.
He said that it is very difficult to imagine the end of the war.
“The war,” he said, “will not end with a peace agreement, but when we forgive the evils we have seen,” noting that it will take a lot of work.
Reflecting also on his 30-minute private meeting with the Pope on Sunday, as well as that of other Caritas officials, the General Secretary of Caritas-Spes Ukraine said he was moved by the Pope’s deep interest in their work, experience and their stories.
Preparation before the war helped
Silvia Sinibaldi attributed much of Caritas’ current effectiveness to helping Ukrainians prepare in Ukraine even before war broke out in late February. The protocols they already had in place, she suggested, allowed them to respond pragmatically when war broke out.
She congratulated local partners and volunteers for their heroic efforts in these countries and highlighted how they enable Caritas to operate effectively, both in Ukraine and in neighboring countries.
Vatican News English has asked if Caritas has ever been blocked from distributing supplies or if there has been interference as the Pontifical Foundation works to help people and children.
“The issue of security and safety is very important to us,” said Tetiana Stawnychy, noting: “It is difficult to navigate in a country under attack, where we do not know where the next attack will take place.
For the most part, she said, Caritas’ safety and security protocols have been effective, especially since “some of them have been used in the past by Caritas Ukraine in the buffer zones of the eastern Ukraine”.
Prof. Vyacheslav expressed concern about security in the occupied areas, referring to a center “in an occupied area where people still want to do their work, saying ‘this is our mission, our city’”.
Work of Caritas and Caritas-Spes Ukraine
From the start of the war until the beginning of May, Caritas Ukraine and Caritas-Spes Ukraine have helped more than 1.2 million people in the region through their 50 local centers across the country. Caritas has distributed food to almost a million people in the region and provided shelter and accommodation to over 200,000 others.
Several local Caritas centers work to educate young people and women with children on how to be less vulnerable to human trafficking.
Caritas also provided medicine and hygiene kits, as well as education and protection programmes.