Svitlana Duhovych – Vatican
Sister Marta Meshko from the Congregation Sisters of Mary of the Miraculous Medal and Dmytro Opalev from the organization “Depaul Ukraine” tell about how the Vincentian family helps residents of settlements in suburbs of Kyiv to rebuild their houses that were destroyed during the Russian occupation. “I am touched when even in such a situation people are able to feel gratitude, can thank, bless and can hope,” says Sister Marta.
Winter has come to Ukraine. In peacetime, this statement would cause joy, because it meant seeing snowflakes falling from the sky like a swarm, hearing the crunch of snow underfoot, being in family circle in warm houses during long winter evenings. In conditions when Russian missiles destroyed so many power plants and central heating systems, the thoughts of many Ukrainians are focused on how to survive the cold winter.
People who lost their homes during shelling and bombing are in a particularly vulnerable situation. During the first months of the Russian full-scale invasion, 12,500 private houses were partially damaged and more than 5,000 were completely destroyed only in the Kyiv region; 975 multi-storey buildings were damaged and almost 170 were completely destroyed. Not all residents of these buildings left for other cities or abroad, because they prefer to stay on their land and rebuild their homes and their lives step by step.
In one moment, people lost everything they had invested their whole lives in
“One woman told me that she saw her house completely burnt down in 20 minutes, and only a small shed is left and she and her husband now live there. What people worked for all their lives, they lost in one moment and of course it hurts,” says Sister Marta Meshko from the Congregation of Mary’s Sisters of the Miraculous Medal, who together with her community, has been serving in Kyiv. Together with Depaul Ukraine during several months, they have been bringing construction materials to the residents of villages in suburbs of the capital, so that they could start rebuilding their houses destroyed during the occupation.
“For me, it is a real miracle,” the nun emphasizes, “that people who have lost everything and could only cry and complain on unfair circumstances, immediately respond to every gesture of kindness shown to them, like they come alive, like hope for life is awakened. It touches me when, even in such a situation, people are able to feel gratitude, know how to thank, bless and are able to hope».
From the birth of an idea to action
Sister Marta tells that already while returning to Kyiv from Zakarpattia region, where her community spent the first three months of the invasion, praying day and night, she thought about how they would now carry out their ministry in the capital, where the sisters have been since 2005. “To live the Gospel here and now, even in these conditions,” were the first words that came to her mind when she asked about it in prayer to the Lord.
The answer about a specific way to help came when Sister Marta, together with volunteers of Depaul Ukraine, took food to the residents of the villages of Moschun and Zahaltsi, located on the outskirts of the capital. One of the residents, Mrs. Olga, showed them her destroyed house, saying: “If we had at least some materials, we would start rebuilding it ourselves to move into it before winter”. Sister Marta admits that in these words she heard a clear pointer of what she should do: together with Depaul Ukraine, they decided to use the funds collected by the Vincentian Family abroad for the purchase of building materials to help people rebuild their homes.
To listen to people about their needs to help effectively
Dmytro Opalev from Depaul Ukraine notes that when helping people, it is important to communicate with them, ask them about their needs and provide them with the help they really need. “Our only condition,” he says, “was that we provided people with building materials to start rebuilding, and then we also accompanied them on this way, we were looking for other charities and volunteer organizations to help them rebuild». Dmytro explains that when benefactors see that the building has already been rebuilt partially, they are more willing to agree to pay for another part of the materials.
To motivate to action
The idea is not to do something instead of people, but to provide them with at least part of the materials for reconstruction, not to let them give up, but to encourage them to start acting. Such help, according to Dmytro, gives hope to people. “It is important for them to feel that they are not alone,” he says, “and they are grateful, because a month ago there was a ruin, and now a house is being built. This makes me very happy and gives me strength and inspiration. Because when we first come to people and see that they are confused and don’t know what to do, and later, having received the materials, they start building, and their mood is already completely different. And I am very pleased to see these people happy, smiling, they have some hope for the future.”
As Sister Marta pointed out, their help caused a real chain of good. For example, one family, which received aerated concrete blocks, later helped another family to build a roof. “Therefore, there is a lot of solidarity and a lot of good,” she emphasizes, “And seeing it in such circumstances is a miracle to me.”
To listen to people’s pain
The fact that this initiative of the Vincentian Family is not aimed at the broad masses of people makes it possible for Sister Marta and Dmytro to establish friendly relations with the people they help, to listen to their suffering, which they experienced during the occupation. “Mrs. Halyna told me that when the Russians entered the village, she and her husband hid in a cold cellar, ,” the nun recalls. – And only at night they went upstairs to prepare something to eat. Her brother Leonid was brave, because he went around the village to feed the animals left in the stables – cows, chickens, pigs, as well as dogs and cats, left by the owners who fled from the attackers. Mrs. Halyna, told in tears that Russian soldiers shot at her friend three times only because she did not open the gate as quickly as they wanted.” Sister Marta notes that people openly talk about their pain, but their hearts are not filled with despair and they know how to show gratitude when someone gives a helping hand to them.
Our interlocutor also recalls elderly woman Zina, who in her over 80 y.o. has lost her house and lived in a shed. «We decided to buy her a modular wooden house, and she was extremely happy. She couldn’t believe that we did this for her,” she says. “During a short time, these people experienced very strong and conflicting emotions, which are not easy to deal with: at the beginning of the year, they saw their homes destroyed, and now someone else is offering them selfless help.”
To overcome difficulties by helping others
Dmytro Opalev notes that his activity, through which he brings good to people, helps him to survive this difficult period of the war. “It gives me strength and energy and I want to help even more,” he emphasizes, showing his gratitude to donors from different parts of the world, who send financial aid. Due to this aid, Vincentian Family can help people “rebuild their homes and show a bright and better future, show, that despite the terrible war, God cares about people who are in trouble.”
Evil has no logic, you cannot understand it
All those who are now helping others in Ukraine do this in conditions, when the air alarms sound almost every day in Ukrainian cities and villages, Russian missiles continue to destroy civilian infrastructure and hit people’s homes. Firm faith in God and prayer help both Dmytro and Sister Marta. “I know that I am not alone,” says the Sister, “I know that the Lord is with me and with these people whom we help. In addition, through prayer, I can bring their pain to God, who can give them the strength to move forward and not focus on evil, as one of the temptations now is to analyze evil, to try to understand it. However, evil has no logic and you cannot understand it. Instead we should direct our energy and thoughts to action: to understand the specific needs of people and try to help them.”