The event “Christmas Mission” at UCU gathered some 200 children of deceased Ukrainian soldiers who, at the invitation of volunteers, traveled to Lviv from four regions of Ukraine: Lviv, Volyn, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ternopil.
The day’s program included an excursion on a “wonder train,” a chocolate workshop, Lviv shops and the history of this venerable city, and then a meal at the dining hall of the Ukrainian Catholic University. The guests then sang Christmas carols in the University Church of the Holy Wisdom of God with the Pikkardiyska Tertsiya and the Ternopil group Halychany. They also took part in a master-class in psychology.
16-year-old Marian and 13-year-old Liliya Kuromanskyi traveled from Berezhany, Ternopil Region. They have lived for more than a year without a father. Sergeant Bohdan Kurmanskyi died in an accident on 15 October 2015 when a moving column of military equipment near the village of Oleksiikvo, Poltava Region, including a tank of the Ural division, collided with a tractor standing at the side. Bohdan died from the trauma he received.
Marian likes soccer and basketball and dreams of becoming a soccer player. He met Andriy Yarmolenko, a Ukrainian soccer player, a midfielder of a joint Ukrainian group and Dynamo (Kyiv). Liliya dances in the Ekstravahant ensemble, dreams of jeans and a sports uniform, and also wants to visit Croatia.
Both enjoyed their trip to Lviv. Both would like to become volunteers. Liliya wants to help children without fathers and Marian wants to help families whose fathers are in the war. They see that it’s not easy to be volunteers but it’s important to be good, honest, and open to others.
Sofiika Haiichuk of Ternopil has visited Lviv before. This time she came with her mother and brother. She particularly liked the chocolate workshop. Her mother is a volunteer and the girl helps sometimes: “It can be a little difficult when you have to unload a truck. I myself helped put items in order, including some clothes,” explains Sofiika.
The event was organized thanks to the cooperation of volunteers from Great Britain and Ukraine. The initiator of the meeting is a volunteer from London, Iryna Esteves, a representative of the Ukrainian diaspora, in cooperation with the charitable organization Ukrainian Charity. She helps not only the Ukrainian army but collects funds for medicine for sick children and supports the children’s building Pilihrym in Mariupol, where children of refugees and children from needy families live.
“Volunteering is a way of life. When I see a problem, I want to help. Every person who cares can become a volunteer. I have a job, a family, but I can’t remain on the sidelines regarding events in Ukraine. There are so many tragic stories of soldiers who have died. Ukraine has suffered such losses in these three years! Each invited family has its own story. I work as a teacher and I give the money I make to charitable causes. Many Ukrainians abroad do this, because the fate of our people is painful to us,” admits Iryna Esteves.
She is a parishioner at the Greek-Catholic church in London and this is not the first year she’s been fundraising for the needs of Ukrainian soldiers through a volunteer network in various regions of Ukraine. She asked UCU to help organize this event.
“We were moved, and very happy, that we had the honor to greet the members of the families of our soldiers. We work in various areas: humanitarian aid, military-medical needs, chaplaincy in a military hospital, in order to support people who have suffered loss. These losses call us all to unite, reflect, open ourselves up, and leave behind the narrow box of selfishness. We gladly welcome such events and will take part in them also in the future,” explains Fr. Petro Terletskyi, PhD, the coordinator of UCU’s Volunteer Corps.
The most valuable thing you can give to these families is attention and solidarity, the volunteers emphasize.
Natalia Pertsovych, a volunteer from Ivano-Frankivsk, is concerned that some of her acquaintances have been left without a family provider, and one woman was left entirely alone, losing a son in the war: “It’s necessary to organize events like this, because they bring people together in their loss, their grief. People like this should gather according to the principle of the family circle. Today we brought children with their mothers. One grandmother came with children from Ivano-Frankivsk. We know the mother of a deceased soldier who is now left alone. It’s important not to leave people like this without attention. Today’s event is an important first step in a new beginning regarding the support of these families.”
This is the second time volunteers from Great Britain and Ukraine have organized an event like this. In the summer they organized a camp at a sanatorium for some 60 children of soldiers of the ATO. Children there came from the Khmelnytsk, Kharkiv, Chernivtsi, Sumy, and Ivano-Frankivsk regions.
Among the volunteers involved in this event: Iryna Esteves (London), the volunteer movement Benefactors for a Soldier (Volyn), the Logistics Center to Help ATO Fighters (Ternopil), Halyna Trach (Lviv Region), Natalia Pertsovych (Ivano-Frankivsk), and Olha Zarichynska, UCU’s Volunteer Corps.
We note that UCU’s Volunteer Corps actively participates in helping the Ukrainian army in eastern Ukraine. UCU staff and students are part of the organization. The volunteers provide humanitarian aid to soldiers and residents of occupied territories. In 2016 the Volunteer Corps prepared and gave to military divisions two mobile bathing and washing complexes. They serve as chaplains and volunteers at the Lviv Military Hospital. They were also able to provide military field hospitals with disposable medical materials and accessories.