A young refugee in Ukraine: ‘There is no fear anymore, only a desire to be useful’

FROM THE VERY BEGINNING OF THE WAR, the Archdiocese of Ivano-Frankivsk, in western Ukraine, has been involved in welcoming fleeing women and children, most of whom are coming from major cities such as Kyiv, Kharkhiv, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro and Odessa.

Sofia, just 14 years old, is one of these refugees. Together with her mother Viktoria she has fled the war that descended like a plague on her life and on the once peaceful town of Brovary in the region of Kyiv.

Young people of her age already have a great deal to contend with, looking for meaning in their lives, already thinking of their education and of a future profession, perhaps even falling in love for the first time, but for Sofia everything is now very different.

Ever since they arrived in Saint Basil high school, Sofia and her mother have been trying simply to cope with their new life. This school in Ivano-Frankivsk, a city of some 300,000, is one of the places where the Ukrainian Greek Catholic archdiocese has been housing the newly arrived refugees. Sofia’s father stayed behind in Brovary to defend his house and his country. Despite the danger, he feels a little more at peace knowing that his family is safe.

Sofia and her mother Viktoria

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been supporting numerous projects in the archdiocese for many years now, and it provided immediate emergency aid of $34,000 in response to the war. The classrooms in Saint Basil High School have been turned into dormitories for up to a hundred people. Sofia is very grateful. “At least here we have a roof over our heads, warmth, good food, clothing, toiletries and, above all, peace,” she said. Now she is trying to do as much as she can to help others. Her mother, Viktoria, has also volunteered to help those in most need. “There is no fear anymore, only the desire to help,” she said.

The archdiocese is taking up food collections in all the parishes. Some of this is for the refugees in Ivano-Frankivsk, the rest is sent to people in the east of the country. The refugees also have access to free medical care, thanks to the doctors at the nearby Saint Luke Hospital.

Once the war is over, there is only one thing that Sofia and Viktoria want, and that is to go back home, although they are far from sure if their house in Brovary will even survive the war. Situated around five miles from Kiev, it was hit by rockets in the first few days of the war, leaving seven people dead and some 17 injured.

“I worry most about my home, and my school,” said Sophia. “Will everything still be the same when I get back home? I don’t know, but I hope peace will come soon,” she added. Of one thing she is sure: when everything gets back to normal again, the first thing she will do will be to meet with her friends and hug her father, who is the one she misses most of all.

ACN is also supporting priests and religious in the archdiocese of Ivano-Frankivsk in their pastoral and charitable work among the people. Last year, ACN funded 21 ongoing projects in the archdiocese and since the outbreak of the war it has also been supporting over 600 priests and religious.

—Maria Lozano