A bishop from western Ukraine has given a heart-rending account of his desperate struggle to help the 400,000 war-scarred people who have flooded into his region.
As Ukraine’s Zakarpattia region, which has a population of one million, has taken in a total of 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from other parts of Ukraine, Mukachevo Diocese has stepped up its assistance for those fleeing war zones.
Diocesan buildings have been turned into accommodation and “almost half of Roman Catholic families in the region have housed IDPs in their own homes”, Bishop Mykola Petro Luchok told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
The diocese is also supporting local organisations providing trauma counselling for people affected by the war, including soldiers returning from the frontline and the families of those who died in battle, the Auxiliary Bishop and Apostolic Administrator of Mukachevo said.
He added: “ACN will be providing funding to help us offer psychological and therapeutic courses to mental health professionals so they can care for those returning with deep mental wounds in the future.”
Last winter, when the region was left without electricity following airstrikes on thermal and hydroelectric power stations, ACN also provided generators and battery energy storage systems to help people keep warm.
Many of those seeking refuge in the region are families with children, so the diocese has organised “summer camps in the mountains and other natural settings with creative activities for displaced children” and “events for displaced families to strengthen and renew their spirit”, the bishop said.
He highlighted the psychological and financial toll the war has taken on IDPs and locals alike, many of whom have lost all means of supporting themselves and their families.
As a result, he said, “a lot of people have left Zakarpattia. Many of those running things in the region and in our diocese have also left.
“Therefore, one of the challenges has been that we have had to completely reorganise the way everything functions on a daily basis.”
Bishop Luchok makes regular pastoral trips around his diocese, and everywhere he goes, people tell him “how much the war has wounded them in various ways”.
He said: “One aspect of the hardship is that there is no end in sight.
“People are mentally fatigued. Then there are also those who have been physically injured in the war.”
He said that in these difficult times, “we should not dwell on how things used to be and why our suffering is not ending”.
Instead, “we should immerse ourselves in prayer and reflect on the meaning and power of Calvary”.
He added: “We should not focus on what we have lost but concentrate on carrying our crosses and on finding ways to help others.
“Life is easier when we think not about our own suffering but rather about how we can help other people.
“We have to learn to serve each other according to the best of our abilities, in peace or war.
“We have to try not to be afraid, because fear closes our hearts to grace.”
Bishop Luchok concluded: “We are very grateful to ACN for all the help we have received.
“We hope for continued support because the war is still ongoing, resulting in a lot of losses in our lives.”