In Ukraine, women religious are on the frontline in battle against COVID-19

FOR UKRAINE, the spread of this coronavirus could have devastating consequences. Already, even before the arrival of COVID-19, the ongoing civil war, combined with a shortfall in pension payments, had exposed especially the frail and elderly to sickness and poverty. Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), has just approved emergency aid for priests and women religious to enable them to continue carrying out their pastoral and social ministry among the most vulnerable people. Here is a snapshot of the work of sisters in Ukraine.

Sister Daniela Pukhalska is a nursing sister at a hospital in Odessa on the Black Sea. She works in the infectious diseases section and consequently has first-hand experience of the suffering caused by the virus. She told ACN: “A few days ago we were told that from now on we must only accept patients who have already tested positive. There is so much work to do that at the end of the day I feel absolutely exhausted.” Even some of the doctors have panicked, she reported, and a few doctors have actually left.

On the frontline in Ukraine

She herself is not afraid of infection. A religious of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, she said that this confidence is thanks to the grace of God, and to the fact that many people are praying for her and for the sick. She said: “I know that many people are praying for us, for the doctors and all the staff, and we are very grateful for this. Please continue to pray for us, so that we do not lose our strength.”

Sister Justiniana works in the Mary the Mother of Mercy elderly care home in Lviv in western Ukraine. There the sisters of Saint Joseph are caring for 25 bedridden patients who require round-the-clock medical care and supervision. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic are tightened and it is now forbidden to visit patients, Sister Justiniana told ACN and the staff have to wear masks and protective clothing. She said: “We are afraid that we may soon run out of the necessary equipment and medicines, because it is difficult to get new supplies. But despite everything, we are trying not to panic but instead to soothe and protect our patients.“

Sister Jana Lypivska, a religious of the Benedictine Missionary Sisters, works in the parish of Saint Aloysius in Zhmerynka, in the center of the country. Until recently her main duty was giving catechetical instruction to children and adults and preparing them for the sacraments. But Sister Jana had additionally always been caring for the elderly and needy people in the parish. Now though, this has become her most important duty, she explained.

“In this difficult time of lockdown above all, these people need our help and the witness of our lives. Many of them ask us for our prayers. We open up our chapels so that one person at a time can pray there, and we run errands or try to simply be there for these people during these difficult times.”

Sister Elena Gnadziuk belongs the congregation of the Myrrh-bearing Sisters (the Myronositsi). Their convent is visited daily by around a dozen people living in poverty. The sisters share their food and other necessities with them. “Every time I hear the doorbell and open our convent door, I see people in need. They include homeless people, and those who have lost their jobs because of the virus and are now in financial difficulties. Yesterday a woman came to us asking for food for her three children. After her there was a man asking for food for his mother. Among the needy there are many people living on their own,” Sister Elena said.

ACN has been supporting all these communities for years now, thereby enabling the sisters to better fulfil their specific charism of care and service to the poorest of the poor. Our support helps them train new vocations, support their own sick and elderly sisters and provide help for those whom they serve absolutely without charge.

—Maria Lozano