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World News

Homeless feeding the homeless: the Christian spirit of Ukraine

by Donna Birrell

A Christian charity working in Ukraine says many of its clients who were homeless before the invasion are now turning their lives around to provide support for others.

DePaul International runs shelters in cities such as Kharkiv and Odesa and is helping supply food and medical support to people who have been displaced by the conflict.

The charity has been working in Ukraine for the last 15 years but it is now seeing people who had complex needs and used the shelters before the war rallying around to support victims.

Its chief executive Matthew Carter has been speaking to Premier:

"Because of our outreach as a community and faith based organisation we are able to reach the most vulnerable, so we are hearing astonishing stories of bravery and energy from the teams particularly in Kharkiv and Odesa. 
"We have shelters in both those cities, where we care for homeless and vulnerable people. But they've been turning those centres and shelters into food kitchens and providing food for the most vulnerable - those families, women and children living on the metro stations. 
"They're also taking food to those people who are stuck in their homes, who are perhaps sick or poorly and have to be looked after. They're taking food out to those people in the most difficult and dangerous of situations."

In Odesa, volunteers are providing hot food for over 250 people every day and in Kharkiv volunteers are making soup and delivering it to people taking refuge in shelters. 

"It is the homeless feeding the homeless. Those people who are already marginalised in society who we're working with to care for, and who have very complex needs, reaching out and helping those who they see as more vulnerable themselves at the moment. It's an astonishing story of care, love, devotion, and bravery."

Carter has worked in conflict zones for the last 30 years but he says he has never witnessed trauma on the scale of the trauma in Ukraine.

"The trauma in Ukraine is something unprecedented.
"People have been deeply traumatised, staff that I've known and worked with, for some time, are really struggling to come to terms with this. But we're there to support each other and it's very much built around our faith identity which is so central and keeps us going through these really tough times. 
"I often think: 'what would I do without our faith at times like this?' because it does help you to get up, it does help you to sleep and deal with the magnitude of the situation the world is struggling to deal with.
"Our more mobile residents are also distributing aid, meeting the aid trucks as they arrive, and taking items to vulnerable people's homes. Last weekend, our Kharkiv volunteers delivered tinned food, vegetables, bread, toilet rolls and nappies to people who are not able to leave their homes, including a woman who had just given birth. In a war zone, this is an act of incredible bravery.

"We are so proud of our shelter residents. Many have complex needs of their own, in terms of their physical and mental health and past trauma. Some will have faced stigma and discrimination as a result of being homeless, yet they still have the strength to help the people who need it most. Our clients and service users volunteering and working together is a true reflection of the spirit of Depaul, and our founder St. Vincent.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with our Ukrainian staff and volunteers, including our shelter residents. Their bravery and dedication makes our humanitarian work possible."

The charity takes its name from St Vincent dePaul who was called to serve the poor and who was canonised in 1737.




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