Russian armored vehicles are seen during drills in Rostov, Russia, Jan. 27, 2022. CNS photo/Sergey Pivovarov, Reuters

Caritas prepared should tanks roll

By 
  • February 4, 2022

Whether or not Russia invades, Caritas Ukraine is already at work getting people in Eastern Ukraine through all the small crises, the human-scale disasters of a war that’s dragged on for eight years.

Anna Dombrovska, Catholic Near East Welfare Association project manager for Ukraine, was in Ukraine in September and reports Caritas has been ready to serve new refugees from the conflict with Russia since last summer.

“Branches have trained to go to the field, create field kitchens or field tents where they can help people with humanitarian aid, medical help or psychological consultation and definitely spiritual (consultation) of course,” Dombrovska said.

“When there’s a question of whether Ukraine is prepared, well, Ukraine has been prepared since 2014. The country has been mobilized for eight years. It’s not that the war ended and now it may start again. The war has been there for so long.”

With more than 1,000 staff and volunteers, $10 million in programming and serving 95,000 people in 2021, Caritas is CNEWA’s main partner in Ukraine. The organization has 37 offices across Ukraine, including staff who work along the contact line between Ukrainian forces and Russian and Russian-backed forces in the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

“We aspire to save lives and alleviate suffering. We work to accelerate the end of poverty, hunger and preventable disease. And we seek to cultivate just and peaceful societies,” said a Caritas Ukraine description of itself released through Caritas Internationalis.

While the Caritas effort includes everything that would be expected of a professional humanitarian aid agency serving displaced and traumatized people — monthly food baskets, hygiene kits, blankets and bedding, cooking items, psychological services including mobile units of social workers delivering “psychological first aid” — the Caritas effort also includes chapels on wheels to minister to spiritual needs.

While the threat of war is nothing new for Ukrainians, the scope of the threat has expanded since Russian President Vladimir Putin sent more than 100,000 troops to conduct training exercises within just a few kilometres of the border, including troops now in Belarus.

“The threat may be all over the Ukrainian border with Russia and Belarus — which is more than just the eastern part, Donetsk and Luhansk,” said Dombrovska. “We’re talking about  70 per cent of the Ukrainian border that can be attacked. It could be northwest, north, east and south (Crimea) as well.”

Caritas programming throughout Ukraine is an integral part of the country’s readiness for war, Dombrovska said.

“Because of the capacity of Caritas, government cannot ignore the impact they will have,” she said.

Churches and government meet regularly to sort out what services are available and what might be needed in various parts of the country.

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