Half of the population left the frontline town of Maryinka after the war broke out in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
The only people who stayed in the town are the elderly people, the ones who strongly believe that a shell would not hit their home. They live their lives in this frontline town, surrounded with shattered houses and lonely roads.
The story of an elderly couple of Volodymyr and Valentyna sounded surprisingly easy, understandable and evocative, despite the heavy burden of war. CBN-Emmanuel’s team came to their house during our monitoring trip aimed at inspecting installation of solid fuel boilers provided by “Pope for Ukraine” Initiative.
As soon as we entered the doorstep, the couple greeted us and invited to the table right away, without letting us even look at the boiler, which was the main reason for us to visit them. We could not resist having a cup of coffee with the couple. It was obvious that they were really happy to have us over. After all, it was the last family we had to visit that day.
While Valentyna fussily served sweets to the table, Volodymyr tirelessly boasted of pictures of his grandchildren. He has five of them.
“This girl Sofia is the youngest, she is 6. When they start shooting, she usually dances. In general, she always dances. She does not know what war is. We no longer hide in the basement when shooting starts, because we are absorbed with the art of our little granddaughter! We used to hide in the basement before, but it makes no sense to stay in the cold and in the darkness of the basement. The other three children and five grandchildren also stayed in the town, live next door to us in Maryinka. And they also believe that God will save and protect them! “
After a cup of coffee Volodymyr takes us by the hand and pulls into his “holy corner”. His wife comments, “That’s his church over there, just go and look!” And to our surprise we find a small home church around the corner. The room is not big, but everything in it is covered with towels, images and icons.
“This is the Holy Virgin of God. This is St. Nickolas. And I ask my relatives to put this icon into my hands after I die. When shooting begins, I run here and pray to God: “Lord, forgive us and have mercy on us and our children! And He has been merciful so far… all of us are safe and sound”.
Valentina wanted to share her story as well: “I worked my whole life selling fish and I had to be around refrigerators all the time. And with the small money I made, I also earned bronchitis. It didn’t bother me too much right after I retired. But when the war began, the prices went up and with our small pensions of 1,200UAH ($45) each, we couldn’t afford to buy enough firewood to warm our house. For the last two years the temperature in the house was exactly 4 – 7oC in winter and my bronchitis became a chronic disease. And you know, at the age of 74, getting a pneumonia is a terrible thing. I thought I would die. The doctors had to pump liquid out of my lungs. To save my life we had to buy an electric oil heater and the debts for electricity bills wound up – up to 1,200UAH per month. Where could we get this kind of money? But God did not leave us, the Pope himself thought about us! He has given us a boiler! Oh, we are now healed and feel like a king and a queen! We are sure that there is Someone powerful in the world! There is Christ! “
When leaving the house, we saw a pigeon house filled with a dozen snow-white pigeons. Five were sitting on the roof and cleaning their wings. Three were making beautiful circles against the blue sky, and a couple more were peacefully sleeping on a bar. Volodymyr took one gently and said:
“These pigeons are not for meat, they are for the soul! Did you know that a dove is a symbol of peace and the Holy Spirit? We knew it when we decided to breed them. There is no peace in our land, so we wanted to have it in our backyard at least. Someone is looking for peace in a foreign land, and we want to create it in our own yard. After all, we have nowhere to run from the war. Our home is here.”
It was another warm home that we visited today. It’s warm because of the affection of two pensioners who carried their love through two wars. It’s warm because of pigeons who live in the backyard as a symbol of peace. And it’s warm in the house because there is a solid fuel boiler provided by “Pope for Ukraine” Initiative.
We are grateful to Pope Francis and all Catholic Christians from Europe who answered the Pope’s call for help the conflict-affected people of Donbass!