IVANO-FRANKIVSK, Ukraine — In the basement of a church in western Ukraine, far from the most ferocious Russian attacks, residents and displaced people contribute to the war effort by weaving camouflage nets, baking vareniki dumplings and making rosaries.
“We’re not just weaving good luck charms for the guys; we are weaving the country together,” said Lyudmila, who fled the battered Kharkiv region and now weaves camouflage netting for the Ukrainian military.
Sitting in front of a wood frame where she threads green, khaki and brown scraps of fabric around plastic netting to shield military vehicles and positions, Lyudmila said she and the other volunteers put their hearts and their longing for their hometowns into each motion.
Father Mykyta Ovchar, one of the Incarnate Word priests at the Church of Christ the King in Ivano-Frankivsk, said, “When our nation is at war, we cannot just stand by.”
While the soldiers take up weapons, he said, others take up prayer, which is one reason why rosary making is one of the projects locals and displaced people are engaged in.
“We weave, make rosaries and pray, pray for our defenders, pray for our children,” Lyudmila said.
Oleksiy, who also fled from the Kharkiv region where he worked at the Institute of Animal Husbandry, cuts and snips the fabric the women use to weave through the netting.
“Our houses and industrial buildings have been destroyed by shelling by Russian troops,” he said, but the people of Ivano-Frankivsk have been welcoming and helping with the nets lets him work with his hands and contribute to the defense of his country.
He said he hopes to return home one day soon, but so much of what existed in eastern Ukraine has been destroyed.
“It doesn’t make much sense,” he said. “These are the apartments of peaceful citizens, which do not have any military function.”
Irina volunteers making
vareniki, the traditional dumplings, which are packed in boxes and delivered to the troops.
“We hope that this will somehow lift their spirits, their fighting spirit, knowing that they are cared about,” she said.
As they bake, or cut fabric, or weave nets or string rosary beads, the volunteers also find camaraderie in the church basement.
They drink tea and sing Ukrainian folk songs or hymns.
“We are united, and we believe that our love, our warmth will bring us closer to victory,” Lyudmila said.
Volunteers, displaced people pitch in to help
Just because Russia’s war on Ukraine is hard to believe or understand does not mean the Catholic Church had time to ponder what was happening before it acted.
And with tens of thousands of Ukrainians seeking refuge in Ivano-Frankivsk, Archbishop Volodymyr Viytyshyn, head of the Archeparchy of Ivano-Frankivsk, knew he and his faithful had to react.
“People need clothes, they need some everyday items, medicines, of course, and food,” the archbishop told Catholic News Service.
Father Volodymyr Lukashevsky, the press secretary of the archeparchy, said, “I personally know a family that came from Irpin, and the father was in his slippers, which he was wearing in the house, got in the car and escaped the bombing.”
He, like many others, have found shoes and clothing and food and a welcome at the archeparchy’s “anti-crisis coordination center.”
Many of the displaced people now living in Ivano-Frankivsky come back often — to help.
Half of the volunteers are displaced people, but Father Lukashevsky said the other half “are directly related to the Church: priests, seminarians, wives of priests, children of priests.”
In addition to providing clothing, medicine and diapers, the Church also works with the city in finding shelter for the displaced people and runs a field kitchen in front of the cathedral, the archbishop said.
Archbishop Viytyshyn said the people also need mercy and a listening ear, especially those who have seen and lived through the Russian bombing in other parts of Ukraine.
“We need to help them return to a good, normal life” as much as possible, the archbishop said.
Pope tells Russian patriarch they aren’t ‘clerics of the state’
By Carol Glatz | Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY — Warning that the Russian Orthodox patriarch should not “turn himself into Putin’s altar boy,” Pope Francis also said he would like to go to Moscow to meet Vladimir Putin in an attempt to end the conflict in Ukraine.
The pope reiterated that he would not be going to Kyiv “for now,” but “I first must go to Moscow, I must first meet Putin,” he said in an interview with the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, published May 3. Vatican News also published most of the interview.
Pope Francis said he sent a message through Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, “20 days after the war” started, to be delivered to Putin telling him, “I was ready to go to Moscow.”
“We still have not had a response, and we are still being persistent, even though I am afraid Putin may not be able to and may not want to have this meeting right now,” the pope said. “I am doing what I can. If Putin were to open the door. …”
“But so much brutality, how do you not try to stop it? We saw the same thing with Rwanda,” he said, referring to the genocide against members of the Tutsi minority ethnic group in 1994, when at least 500,000 people were killed in about 100 days.
Pope Francis also provided more details about a video call he had with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow in mid-March. “I spoke with Kirill for 40 minutes via Zoom. He spent the first 20 minutes holding a piece of paper reading all the reasons for the war.”
“I listened to him, and I told him, ‘I don’t know anything about this. Brother, we are not clerics of the state, we cannot use the language of politics, but of Jesus. We are shepherds of the same holy people of God. That is why we must seek the path of peace, to cease the blast of weapons,’” he said.
“The patriarch cannot turn himself into Putin’s altar boy,” he said.