Despite the increasing risk of remaining in Ukraine’s warzones, religious communities have stayed behind to serve the people.
Magda Kaczmarek, Ukraine Project Manager for Aid to the Church in Need, is in constant touch with the charity’s project partners.
She maintains close contact with several orders of nuns in the war area. “The Sisters are full of fear and anxiety, but they also feel upheld by prayer and by a worldwide wave of solidarity,” she reports.
Magda speaks movingly of a conversation with a nun from a convent in northern Ukraine. For security reasons neither the nun’s name, nor the location can be revealed, but media reports confirm there is fierce fighting in this town. Several times during the night the sisters have had to take refuge in the basement; they sleep in their habits and veils, so that they can run out of their rooms at any time. At night the whole convent is kept in darkness, so as not to attract attacks.
In recent days, the nuns have tried to continue their conventual life as much as possible. However, the mobile phone is now a constant companion even at the liturgy of the hours, Madga reports: “In this way they can always get an early warning when another attack starts.”
However, even the convent’s basement has become too unsafe due to the fierce fighting, so at night the nuns now take refuge in an air-raid shelter. Several bombs have already landed near the convent, killing a young family, reports Magda Kaczmarek. “The Sisters are now hosting three families in the convent, who were very fearful for their lives.”
This is not a new task for the nuns, because even before the attack by Russian troops began at the end of February, many people came to them, including families affected by the war that began in 2014. They provided spiritual care for the wounded and their families: this was, and still is, a very important mission. For many local people, the Sisters are also a sign of hope and guidance. Many neighbours say: “We are staying as long as the sisters stay. When they go, we go too.”
Despite the depressing situation, there are also glimmers of hope. “The nuns receive news from all around the world that people are thinking of them and praying for them. The friends and neighbours of the convent also show the nuns great solidarity, although these people are themselves in great distress,” reports ACN’s Ukraine Project Manager.
The nuns say that the psalms have become very real to them. “They ask for protection from the dangers of war, and the promise of God’s presence gives them strength.”
One of the nuns says that she has never prayed the Rosary as much as now.
ACN helped to fund the building of this convent and for many years has contributed to the living expenses of the Sisters, who are grateful to ACN for its solidarity and closeness.
ACN has asked contemplative orders around the world to pray for Ukraine. Amid the terrible fear and fighting in the country, this is a form of support which does not go unnoticed, reports Magda after speaking with the nuns: “They feel that they are a part of the Church and that many people are with them.”
ACN is providing an emergency package of more than £1 million (€1.3 million). Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, international executive president of ACN, said the money will go to priests and religious who work across the country in parishes, or with refugees, orphans and the elderly. The charity is also asking for prayers for peace in Ukraine.