People Are Afraid of Further Attacks and Hunger, according to Fr. Vitaliy Uminskiy of Caritas of the Diocese of Kiev-Jytomyr.
The situation in the Diocese of Kiev-Jytomyr is progressively worsening. The diocesan Caritas, directed by Fr. Uminskiy, is helping those in need. In an interview with Family News Service, the priest talks about how humanitarian aid is organized in Ukraine, what people fear most, what the situation is like for people with disabilities, and what they need now.
“At present, as a priest, I receive retreats from the hand of God on what humanity is, what faith is, what the priesthood and mercy are.”
“Ukraine thanks the Poles for being with us. We pray on our knees for you and ask for an end to this cruel war!” says Fr. Vitaliy Uminskiy, director of the diocesan Caritas of Kiev-Yytomyria, to Family News Service.
The situation in the Kiev-Yytomyria diocese progressively worsening. Caritas comes to help people. How do you organize help?
It is true! The situation is getting worse; there is not enough food in the stores. The situation is the worst in small towns of the diocese of Zhytomyr. In boarding schools, children and adults with disabilities complain about the lack of food. It is simply beginning to run out. Recently my driver and I went to Nova Borova, a town about 80-90 km from Zhytomyr. There are two boarding schools for disabled children and for adults. The parishes are used as shelters from attacks. They need food the most; they have nowhere to buy it, because of the tank attacks from Belarus. Praise be to God! when we got there was no shelling. We managed to bring oil, butter, some sweets for the youngest. We delivered fuel to one of the parishes because the priest cannot drive from parish to parish. The gasoline stations are closed. The villages of Ivanovets and Ivanowka are also in a difficult situation. There, nearly 300 people are waiting for food. We have approximately 180 bedridden adults under our care, and they above all need pampers.
Recently help has come from Caritas Lublin…
Caritas Lublin sent us a whole truckload of essential things. The car came to Lutsk. Our drivers drove two buses to Lutsk and picked up the food. Our warehouse is there because the drivers are afraid to go directly to Zhytomyr, where it is not safe for them. That is why we agreed that they will pick up the gifts from Poland in Lutsk. When I saw the truck, tears ran down my cheeks. I observe the whole situation and see that any moment now there will be a terrible famine.
Polish women and men are very actively involved in helping Ukraine. Please tell us how we can support you?
There are two ways. You can donate money to a personal account that I have in Poland, in Lublin, as Fr. Witalij Umiński. There are also accounts of the central Caritas office. However, the money gets to my personal account faster (you can find the account here: https://www.facebook.com/caritasspes.zhytomyr/posts/3113063612263204). Then, I can respond quickly to the most pressing needs. You can also deliver food to Caritas Lublin. They send cars to Lutsk, and we pick them up from there.
Fr. Vitaliy, what do people fear most?
They are afraid of what will happen at night. They are also afraid that Putin may attack with a rocket. Two days ago, there was even a rocket close to the nuclear plant in Zhytomyr that destroyed everything within a few kilometers. People are afraid of further attacks and of starvation. They are asking us for help because they want to go to Poland. Some information needs to be verified, but we are trying to help them. More than making plans, we live here and now.
How do the children react?
The children are very stressed. Their parents tell me that they must hide in the basement every night and talk to the children. They explain to them that everything will be okay, but the children do not believe it. They are shaking and afraid that someone will kill them. I recently saw a 4-year-old child talking to his mom. He said: “Mom, you say everything is going to be okay, but I know that’s not true because I can see that you’re scared!” Adults try to hide their emotions, but children see them and feel the fear along with them. When we arrived at the orphanage, I could see tears and fear in the children’s eyes.
The elderly often stay alone, unable to buy food or medicine.
We reach out to them too. Sometimes they are afraid to open the door for us. They think we are imposters or have come to rob them.
And how do you assess the situation from the perspective of faith? Is there still some hope in the hearts of these people?
People pray, they recite the rosary several times. Catholics, Orthodox, but also atheists unite in prayer. We also give rosaries to soldiers. They tell us that the rosary protects them; they are grateful for the prayer and ask for it. Not everyone can come to church, so we organize online prayer meetings. I feel that through this situation people have become more merciful to each other, supporting one another. I also more and more often hear the words: “Go with God” instead of “goodbye.” They say to each other: “God bless you.” Before many of them thought that God did not exist, they did not need Him. In this tragedy, they have seen His face, not just their own image in the mirror.
People of different faiths are uniting?
Before the war began, I received several phone calls a day. Parishioners were contacting me about various issues. Now, during the day, I receive hundreds of phone calls. Orthodox Christians come to me and ask how they can help. I observe amazing testimonies of faith and humanity. The volunteers also include non-believers who do not go to church but come and ask how they can help us.
How does the army react to the clergy? You wear a cassock all the time.
Yes, I walk around in my cassock all the time. The army treats the clergy with seriousness. Soldiers often ask about my confession and when I say that I am a Catholic priest, they take off their caps and ask me for a blessing. They explain to me that they feel the hand of God protecting them, and they feel the prayer of the people. It helps them fight and survive.
And how are you living through this situation?
From 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., there is a curfew and so we cannot go out on the streets. During that time, I pray, I say mass, I ask for peace, I celebrate liturgies for the conversion of Russia. I also pray for the intercession of the souls suffering in purgatory. I ask them for help. I often look at the cross, think about the effects of the war, keep silent and tears flow from my eyes. I think how much one should appreciate the sign of peace given during the Holy Mass, about the power of the wishes for a peaceful and good night. A peaceful night’s sleep is a great gift. We do not know if we will survive until tomorrow. At this time, as a priest, I receive retreats from the hand of God on what humanity is, what faith means, what priesthood and mercy are.
Ukraine thanks the Poles for being with us. We pray on our knees for you and ask for an end to this cruel war! I bless you all!