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A woman played with her child in a sports hall of a high school transformed into temporary accommodation for people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Przemysl, Poland, March 9. More than 2 million people have fled Ukraine after the Feb. 24 invasion.
A woman played with her child in a sports hall of a high school transformed into temporary accommodation for people fleeing the Russian invasion of Ukraine in Przemysl, Poland, March 9. More than 2 million people have fled Ukraine after the Feb. 24 invasion.
Photo Credit: Yara Nardi | Reuters

Vatican, other groups mobilize humanitarian efforts to aid Ukraine

United Nations official called the exodus from Ukraine the fastest-growing refugee crisis since WWII

VATICAN CITY — As the Russian military continues to bombard Ukraine, the Vatican is mobilizing efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to those suffering.

After Pope Francis’ announcement that he was sending two cardinals to Ukraine, the Vatican said March 7 that Polish Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, papal almoner (a member of the papal household with responsibility for performing works of mercy on behalf of the pope), and Canadian Cardinal Michael Czerny, interim president of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, intend to reach Ukraine “in the coming days,” depending on the situation.

“Cardinal Krajewski is on his way now, March 7, toward the Polish-Ukraine border where he will visit refugees and volunteers in shelters and homes,” the Vatican said. Cardinal Czerny was to arrive in Hungary March 8 “to visit some reception centers for the migrants coming from Ukraine,” the Vatican said.

Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner, visited Ukrainian refugees in Korczowa, Poland, March 8, at a supermarket that was turned into a temporary refugee center.
Photo Credits: Catholic News Service
“The cardinals will bring aid to the needy and serve as the presence not only of the pope, but of all the Christian people who express solidarity with the people of Ukraine,” the statement said.

According to the Vatican, Cardinal Czerny also intends to raise concerns regarding the treatment of African and Asian residents in Ukraine. Many have reported acts of discrimination against them as they attempt to flee the country.

“There are also worrisome reports of increasing activities of human trafficking and smuggling of migrants at the borders and in the neighboring countries,” the statement said.

The office of the papal almoner also organized a collection March 7 in Vatican City for employees who wished to donate food and medicine. The collection, the office said, “will be immediately sent to Ukraine through the Basilica of Saint Sophia, the Church of the Ukrainians in Rome.”

In response to more than 2 million refugees, primarily women and children, fleeing the conflict in Ukraine in recent weeks, the president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services said it is “alarming to see the scale of the suffering” in the region.

In a March 8 statement, Sean Callahan said CRS partners and staff inside Ukraine and in Moldova and Poland have “heard of children dragging bulky luggage, their faces wet from tears” and also have heard of “crowds huddling inside bus terminals for shelter, knee-deep in their belongings.

“With all of this in mind, we join the pope in calling for an immediate end to the fighting,” he said, adding that wars in Syria and elsewhere have demonstrated that “people will continue to suffer until there is peace.”

During this time of conflict in Ukraine, CRS has been supporting Caritas Ukraine, an agency of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and Caritas Spes, an agency of the Romanian Catholic Church, in several ways, including transportation of displaced people to friends, families and social services and staffing evacuation and hospitality centers.

Before announcing the cardinals’ mission to Ukraine, Pope Francis condemned the war in Ukraine, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly called “a special military operation.”

“Rivers of blood and tears are flowing in Ukraine. It is not merely a military operation, but a war, which sows death, destruction and misery,” the pope said March 6.

In a video message released March 7, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, thanked the pope for “clearly and distinctly” saying that “this is not some kind of operation; this is a war.”

It is a “war, first of all, against peaceful people; against the peaceful population,” Archbishop Shevchuk said.

He also said that his “heart was in anguish” for his diocese where “vicious battles are taking place in the suburbs.”

Refugee crisis

WASHINGTON — A top United Nations official said March 6 that the world hasn’t seen a refugee crisis such as the one developing in Eastern Europe, caused by Russia’s attack on Ukraine, since the last World War.

As of March 8, at least 2 million have fled Ukraine in the days following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of the East European nation, said Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Grandi called it the “fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.”

The Center for Migration Studies in New York said on its website that after World War II, which lasted from 1939 until 1945, it was clear “there were over a million ‘displaced persons,’ as they were called, in Germany and Austria.” But the center said that “figures for North Africa and Asia were unavailable and figures for Europe were incomplete.”

Most Ukrainian refugees fleeing from Russia’s February attacks have gone into neighboring countries, such as Poland, where Catholic organizations have been among the humanitarian groups helping.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced March 3 that it would grant Temporary Protective Status, or TPS, to Ukrainians already in the U.S. for 18 months so they can remain in the country.

TPS grants a work permit and reprieve from deportation to certain people whose countries have experienced natural disasters, armed conflicts or exceptional situations so they can remain temporarily in the United States.

On its website, DHS said it had granted the designation for Ukrainians based on the ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions that prevent Ukrainian nationals, “and those of no nationality who last habitually resided in Ukraine, from returning to Ukraine safely.”

“This invasion has caused a humanitarian crisis,” the agency said, “with significant numbers of individuals fleeing and damage to civilian infrastructure that has left many without electricity or water or access to food, basic supplies, shelter and emergency medical services.”

“The United States is committed to doing anything we can, first of all, to support the countries that are bearing the immediate burden of taking in Ukrainians,” said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken March 6, speaking to CNN. “And then, as appropriate, if people seek refugee status in the United States, of course we will look at that and I’m sure act on that.”

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