By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register
As the Russian reign of terror continued unabated, with missiles shattering the normally peaceful holiday season, Canadian non-profits and Catholic eparchies have stepped up their support to beleaguered Ukrainians.
The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) has been steadfast in its support since the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian War on Feb. 24, 2022.
Anna Dombrovska, CNEWA Projects Officer for Ukraine, said the non-profit organization works with sources on the ground to assess what the pressing needs are for Ukrainians moment to moment. In the wake of Russian forces being forced into retreat, the invading army has resorted to greater missile strikes in December targeting Ukraine’s infrastructure, particularly its power supply and water services.
“People are out of electricity and water so power supplies are needed,” said Dombrovska. “All kinds of equipment to keep houses warm are needed as well. The churches and centres that we sponsor in the front-line communities are being equipped with the resources so it can be a place where people can stay.”
Cognizant that many children have been deprived of their education since the war’s launch, one of CNEWA’s projects is providing the kids who have to learn remotely with tablets.
Dombrovska said the CNEWA is also supporting work to build or rebuild shelters in western Ukraine. The agency, founded in 1926 to support the Eastern Churches in pastoral and humanitarian work, is also supporting military chaplains’ projects. CNEWA also helped a congregation of Catholic sisters with materials to take care of children and teach them catechism classes.
Another objective was installing a new boiler in a seminary located close to the capital city of Kyiv. Bolstering support for the hospitals treating wounded soldiers is another prime mission.
More than $5 million to date has made this on-the-ground support possible. The initiatives from Canadian business, community group, school and parish entities have been immeasurable for CNEWA and other agencies supporting the humanitarian effort in Ukraine.
Bishop David Motiuk of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Edmonton said the fundraising campaign launched by that eparchy in March has raised over $2.5 million thus far.
“We sent those funds, primarily through CNEWA, to support different projects,” said Motiuk, a product of Vegreville, Alta. “One of the key early projects, when people were fleeing from the bombing in eastern Ukraine, churches in western and central Ukraine were actually housing people. Thousands found their way to the churches or church basements and received food, clothing, shelter and counseling.”
Recently, the eparchy’s funds have helped navigate through the power and water shortages crippling regions throughout the nation state. Motiuk said Dombrovska informed him that families are being offered sweaters and other pieces of warm clothing to shield them against the harsh Ukrainian winters that rival the cold months experienced by many regions of Canada.
The eparchy has also worked to help an orphanage its partnered with to provide some Christmas cheer and Christmas stockings for the young girls and boys in addition to helping these youngsters meet their basic needs.
Media outlets have reported that over 100,000 Ukrainians have been approved to emigrate to Canada, and thousands of refugees have already arrived in Edmonton and surrounding communities. The eparchy has worked continually with the Ukrainian Canadian Congress and Ukrainian Canadian Social Services to support the resettlement, integration and spiritual needs of the migrants.
“I am also looking after our churches in British Columbia for the Eparchy of Westminster,” said Motiuk. “Already Holy Eucharist Cathedral has supported the arrival of over 300 families over the year.”
In December, the Edmonton eparchy made sure these new arrivals had a Christmas to celebrate in a nod to Ukraine’s linkage to St. Nicholas, who is the patron saint of children in the country.
Kyiv native Rus Prince Volodymyr (Vladimir the Great) was credited for bringing Christianity and St. Nicholas to Ukraine in the 10th and 11th century. St. Nicholas’ iconography is featured heavily in churches and homes leading up to the feast day on Dec. 19, when children receive gifts.
“On the feast of St. Nicholas (in Canada) on Dec. 6, each of our parishes organize concerts or celebrations at the end of the Divine Liturgy,” said Motiuk.
“There are a large number of children who came from Ukraine who just love St. Nicholas, so we made an extra effort to spread the word about St. Nicholas’ effort.”
Motiuk said the churches of the eparchy — there are 81 with over 25,000 parishioners — championed a fundraiser organized by St. Stephen Protomartyr Ukrainian Catholic Church in Calgary to raise money for Ukrainian kids in Canada to receive running shoes for Christmas. Over $80,000 was raised in this drive.