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.
Ukraine’s Zakarpattia region, which has a population of one million, has taken in more than 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from other parts of Ukraine, particularly areas on the frontline of the conflict.
Bishop Mykola Petro Luchok told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that buildings in the Diocese of Mukachevo have been turned into accommodation and that almost half of Roman Catholic families in the region have housed IDPs in their own homes.
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.
Last winter, when the region was left without electricity following airstrikes on thermal and hydro-electric 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.
Bishop Luchok 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 that a lot of people have left Zakarpattia: “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.”