Wherever a person lives, in an apartment or a detached house, one always thinks of one's home. Especially during the war period. Caritas-Spes Pilgrimage Center in Western Ukraine has become a new temporary home for many IDPs. Here, in relative safety, we spoke with a manager Oleksandra and two heroines, who shared their stories of forced escape with an open mind.
Oleksandra - a manager at the Pilgrimage Center
Oleksandra comes from Lviv and works as a manager at the Pilgrimage Center, which is supported by Caritas-Spes Ukraine. The girl is engaged in the registration and settlement of IDPs, as well as coordinates provision of humanitarian aid. The Center was opened on February 25, on the second day of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Oleksandra says that people started arriving immediately after hearing the first explosions.
"In the course of the first month, we received a lot of people and calls. From the first days we did not know how we were going to work, but immediately began to accept settlers. We continued to receive calls no matter what time of the day it was. All our employees, volunteers and managers became more active at once. We had ten people simultaneously working at the reception.
Our Center usually hosts 165 residents, in those days we accommodated about 350 guests. The double rooms housed six people wherever they could be accommodated. All our corridors, niches and conference halls were used for overnight stays.
Then our volunteers started organizing trips abroad. About 200-250 people left us every day. People were fed 2-3 meals and then brought to the border."
According to Oleksandra, all the employees of the Center are trying to create conditions for the IDPs as close as possible to their past lives. In addition to accommodation, food and leisure, all settlers receive medical care as well. Gynecologists, ultrasound specialists and ophthalmologists come to the Center. Anyone can talk to a psychologist, who was also invited for such private chats. If there are any specific medical needs, for example, for children, our fathers give them a ride to the city.
"Once I was struck by a case when I was at the reception. I heard a doorbell, jokingly asking for a password. The man answered the intercom, also laughing, "What do you mean by password, let me go home." For me, the word "home" is a sign that people really feel at home here."
Oksana from Severodonetsk
Mrs. Oksana came to the Pilgrimage Center from Severodonetsk, Luhansk region, with her husband and three children. The family can be considered twice resettled: first in 2014, when they fled from the occupied Luhansk to Severodonetsk, and after February 24, 2022 they were forced to leave this city as well. For the second time, Oksana's family loses their home and normal life. Oksana commented on life at the Caritas-Spes Center as follows:
"Everyone gets along here very well, because we are all from occupied or almost occupied territories. We are all in the same boat by sharing the same grief. We are very hospitably welcome here, and we want to say "thank you". Women help in the kitchen, men unload humanitarian aid. We are very gladly received by our fathers: Father Mykola and Father Vladyslav. If someone has any problems, they arrange trips to doctors or bring doctors here.
Our children make friends with each other. The seminarians who study here organize football, basketball and volleyball tournaments for them and play with our children all together. Our children are coming to life."
Olha from Kherson region
Olha comes from a small village in Kherson region, near the border with Crimea. She gave birth to her daughter three weeks before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops. Her parents brought the woman and her baby to the Caritas-Spes Pilgrimage Center, and they went back because Olha's 21-year-old brother was not allowed to leave.
"On February 24, our village was already occupied by Russian troops, who didn't allow any evacuation. I often ran with my baby to the basement, and when I heard the explosions almost near our house, we stayed in the basement all the time. We were running out of baby food. I had to pour water into a small glass and heat it over a candle to make baby food. Only after 2 months of occupation did we decide to leave at our own risk.
We drove past Chornobayivka, which was hit for the 16th time. We passed through the first Russian checkpoint rather easily, as I was with a baby. But when we got to the next checkpoint, to the Buryats near Chornobayivka, they almost turned our whole car over. Then we felt very close to our death."
Telling her story, Olha gently lulls her daughter. The young mother says that the Lord loves her baby, allowing her to be born 3 weeks before the war, although the birth was scheduled for February 22.
"I watched a video from the hospital where my daughter was born. All the births take place in the basement, because the surrounding area has been regularly bombed since the beginning of the war. It is the only available hospital 150 km away from our village, so if I had delivered my baby on February 22, we wouldn't probably have returned home."
Olha is very grateful to all the staff of the Pilgrimage Center for their reception and care, because she was really worried about her child, who began to lose weight dramatically. The fathers began to treat the baby girl and took her to the doctor.
Olha does not know how her family's life will turn out. After the rockets arrived in Lviv region, the girl started to be afraid again of not having anything to feed her child in the basement.
"We are totally fine here. We are well fed, but the most important thing for me is that my child is not hungry, as she was while staying under the occupation. When there was no baby food, I gave her cow's milk diluted with water. The baby didn't grow and remained very small. And here she began to catch up and gained 2 kg within a month.
If people are able to escape - this is a great advantage. God loves us and helps us, and also gives us many chances to help other people. We just need to grab these chances and use them."
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, Caritas-Spes Ukraine has provided shelter to more than 20,000 people and continues to receive people who had to leave their homes. Help us help others.