As the war in eastern Ukraine has been going on for over two years now, we are still trying to get adjusted the situation and we are looking for ways to solve arising problems.
We are changing in the midsts of circumstances and new information. How can we still be responsive to people’s pain? How should we keep our hears sensitive and not get hardened in the flow of negative emotions? What should we see as real grief these days? How can we find words to comfort a suffering person? Where should we find answers to people’s questions?
The reason for our today’s trip to Maryinka was the launch of our new project aimed at installing hard-fuel boilers and delivering firewood to people’s homes in the framework of “Pope For Ukraine” Initiative. This is a wonderful cause! Generous people donated their money and Pope Francis initiated projects of help to Ukrainians blessing Donbass for peace and restoration.
Today we had a chance to meet the first beneficiaries of the project. Having talked to them for just a while, we could see their tears, pain, exhaustion, hopelessness and despair. We felt their pain.
As we were entering the first house on our list, a man of an indeterminate age was greeting us in his backyard. You could tell that he looked older than his real age. The gates and the wicket door were covered with shell holes. It appeared that a shell stroke their neighbors’ house having destroyed the roof. This family was “lucky” – only the doors and windows suffered. We came to the entry way and we could see that the boiler was installed and functioning. Vyacheslav was shy as he talked to us. He told us that he couldn’t believe that the whole house would be warm. We asked him, how they managed to live before. It appeared that the whole family used to cook food, wash themselves, sleep and hide during the times of shelling in this small entry way next to the wood-burning stove. There is a disabled child in the family. Two years ago he had a cardio stimulator inserted. In the middle of our conversation the wife came home. She is the chief accountant at local orphanage. It sounds great, but the sad fact is that the orphanage was closed in 2014 when all the orphans were evacuated and Ukrainian army was stationed in the premises. She hasn’t been receiving salary ever since. As the woman entered the house, her first words were, “Thank you so much! We couldn’t take care of ourselves. We just can’t afford that. All people here live like us. And I am so thankful to you! We have already forgotten how it feels like to live under normal temperature at home. There was gas supply in our town before. The only thing you needed to do is push a button and it was warm at home. We never knew how to use firewood or coal for heating. And now… even if they ever fix the gas supply, it won’t help us. We used to use 3000 cubical meters of gas during the winter season. With current prices for gas, it would be over 20 000 UAH for heating only. Where could we get that much of money?» “Firewood is less expensive, of course, – her husband adds. – I must say that I have already taken my neighbor’s fence into peaces and used it as firewood. Our neighbor allowed me to do so because he left the town”.
When talking to these people we realized that they still didn’t know that we provide 9 cubical meters of firewood with each boiler. When we told them that we were going to bring them firewood by 12 tomorrow, the man burst into tears. He made a bow and said with his eyes full of tears, “Thank you so much! Thank you for not forgetting us! We are so thankful to all generous people. There are more kind people on earth and our life will be changed now!”
As we came to the second house, old lady Valentina was greeting us at the door. She is the oldest one in the family consisting of 4 adults and 3 children. As we started talking, a young boy with sad eyes came out. He was trying to understand what’s going on. I asked his name and what grade he was in. “What are these workers doing here?” (meaning our installers). The boy said, “They brought us a boiler and installed it. It’s going to be warm soon. I have a younger sister, little Dasha who is only three weeks old. Now our mother and her will be warm! And rest of us will be warm too. Thank you so much!” I thought to myself, that this 8-year-old child sounds much older and mature than he is. “When they start shooting, – the boy continued, – my father takes out a blanket, covers me and takes me down to the basement. It’s very cold and wet there. When they start shooting when we are at school, they take us down to the basement too and we wait for shooting to stop. Then our parents come to take us home and bring down to the basement at home… This is how our life has been for the last three years. It’s much worse in winter because it’s cold”. While the boy talks, lady Valentina keeps saying, “Thank you, people. Thank you so much!” When we said good-byes, the boy went out with us to put up the “Pope for Ukraine” logo on the gates. He says, ” I am thankful to the Pope! We wont’ be cold any more. Thank you so much! As we were driving off, the old lady and the boy were waving to us. It felt so good to know that just another family was warm and the day wasn’t lived in vain!
Ira. I won’t be able to forget her soon because people like her take a special place in a person’t heart. She is very small and tiny woman looking line a teenager… I wasn’t ready for a conversation like that. When I entered her house, I could see that the ceiling was hanging down. It felt very cold and wet inside – the house had been abandoned for several years. She started our conversations with the words, “I am a widow. My husband died a year ago. I live by myself. My mother sometimes comes over to my barn where I live to get warm. I made some kind of a stove there”. And then she started crying… with terrible grave tears of a lonely person… “My husband was 39. He died of a second stroke. And I can’t live by myself… with no job… I used to work in Kurakhovo last summer to make 50 Hryvnas per day for cutting meat all day long, and I spent 20 Hryvnas for transportation each day. I had to go to work no matter whether they were shooting or not. And then my hands started rotting away and I don’t work there any more. I find random jobs at people’s homes. I can help them in the garden, or clean up in the backyard, or look after older people. I am happy to any amount of money they can pay”.
Our conversation breaks. We are both crying now. I hug her and try to find the right words to support her, praying silently. “It’s not going to be bad like this all the time. The life will get better…” “When? When? I don’t believe it! Why do I have to go through all of this?” I don’t know how to answer her question. “I don’t know. Nobody knows”…. And we start crying again. When it was time to say good-bye, I asked her whether she wanted to tell something to the people who provided the boiler and firewood. And she answered me with the most sincere words coming from deep in her heart, “Thank you! Thank you for everything! I will be able to move back to my house now! The only problem is that the water is not coming into the system, the pressure is not strong enough”. We took some time to talk to professionals and decided to find a plumber to revise the whole system and fix it. When I was leaving the house, I made a joke saying to the worker, “Make sure you make everything right. I left my phone number to Ira and she will tell me if something goes wrong“. His reaction was serious. He said, “We’ll do everything in the best possible way! We are doing this for God anyway”
God keeps us responsible for orphans and widows… I won’t forget Ira soon. I keep thinking to myself, “How else can I help her? How can I bring some joy into her life?” I think I am going to bring her some food tomorrow and find some other way to help this suffering soul”.