Catholic aid organizations are warning that increasing attacks by Russian missiles are preventing supply access to Ukraine, after 44 civilians, including four children, were killed when a Russian missile struck an apartment block in Dnipro Jan. 13, and a Catholic volunteer lost a leg delivering food in the embattled Bakhmut in the Donbas region a week earlier.
“Our 200 Ukrainian order members have disbursed humanitarian relief throughout this war across the country, right up to the front line,” said Krzysztof Sietczynski, spokesman for the Knights of Columbus in Poland. “Although we’ll continue sending aid, Moscow’s missile campaign is obviously impeding our work, and we can’t reach areas controlled and occupied by the Russian army.”
The charity worker spoke as last-ditch efforts continued to find dozens still missing after the attack on the multistory block in Dnipro, which also left 75 Ukrainians injured.
In a national message Jan. 15, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, said the attack on Dnipro, where three days of mourning were declared, had been the “most tragic” of 57 weekend missile strikes against Kyiv, Kharkiv and other cities.
Sietczynski said the Knights of Columbus — a U.S.-based Catholic brotherhood that has 2 million members globally and is one of the world’s largest charities — was cooperating closely with Poland’s Church-owned Caritas network in supplying aid via the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.
Sietczynski added that the crippling of Grazyna Aondo Akaa, who worked for Klika, a sister organization run for the disabled by the Dominican order in Krakow, Poland, had highlighted the dangers facing volunteers in the increasingly vicious conflict.
Akaa, a special needs expert from Krakow’s Pedagogical University, remained hospitalized in Lublin, Poland’s Health Ministry confirmed, after losing her leg from a mortar shell while delivering humanitarian supplies Jan. 6 to the disabled in the besieged town of Bakhmut.
In a Jan. 16 statement from Brussels, the New York-based International Rescue Committee said its own staff members in Ukraine were safe, but could not “provide life-saving assistance under a barrage of missile strikes,” adding that each attack impeded “the delivery of critical aid, while the world bears witness to the cost innocent civilians continue to pay for the war.”
Meanwhile, a priest of the Society of St. Paul in Lviv, Father Mariusz Krawiec told Poland’s Catholic Information Agency, KAI, that Ukrainians see the presence of outside volunteers as “a sign of hope and solidarity” that they were “not left alone in their suffering and fight for freedom,” but confirmed that many were risking their lives as delivering “desperately needed humanitarian aid” has become “extremely dangerous.”