Caritas is committed to protecting vulnerable Ukrainian children who are suffering and often targeted for human trafficking. As the war in Ukraine wages on, more than six million refugees have been forced to flee, many of whom are children.
This was expressed by Fr. Vyacheslav Grynevych, SAC, Secretary General of Caritas-Spes Ukraine, at a press conference held Monday in Vatican Radio’s Sala Marconi providing an update on the work of the Caritas Confederation and the humanitarian situation in Ukraine.
Speaking alongside Fr. Grynevych was President of Caritas Ukraine, Tetiana Stawnychy; Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis, Aloysius John; and the International Cooperation and Humanitarian Director of Caritas Europa, Silvia Sinibaldi.
Since the beginning of the conflict, the two Ukrainian Caritas organisations - Caritas Ukraine and Caritas-Spes Ukraine - have been at the side of the Ukrainian population, providing humanitarian assistance. All Caritas organisations in neighbouring countries - including Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic Slovakia, Romania, and Moldova - are on the frontlines.
They assist the millions of refugees fleeing the war, and the many millions displaced, with the support of other members of the Caritas Confederation, local partners and volunteers.
Alessandro Gisotti, deputy editorial director of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications, moderated the event and pointed out that those speaking had met privately with Pope Francis on Sunday afternoon in his residence Casa Santa Marta, and with Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican’s Secretary for Relations with States, this morning, before the Archbishop's imminent visit to Ukraine.
Alessandro Gisotti recalled that following the bombing of the Caritas center in Mariupol where seven people died, including two women staff members, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, President of Caritas Internationalis, “decried the bloody attack, and stressed to Caritas that they are really the ones on the ground and doing the work.”
Aloysius John lamented how the lives of the Ukrainian people "turned into a nightmare" overnight, and deplored the situation still “surrounded by violence and uncertainty.”
He noted that 1.8 million refugees are children, and condemned the escalating numbers of women and children becoming victims of trafficking.
Citing the latest official figures, he said, 4,000 Ukrainians have been killed, including some 250 children, since the war broke out.
The Secretary General said it would cost more than six billion Euro to reconstruct Ukraine and said we run the risk of a global economic recession. He recalled that when he visited Syria in March, he already saw how food prices, especially for bread, had already started "skyrocketing."
Tetiana Stawnychy spoke about everyday challenges and how Caritas Ukraine members experience what we hear about on the news.
“Almost 14 million are displaced. That’s one out of three in the country, an astonishing number,” she said, pointing out how “everyone in Ukraine is affected by the war.”
The President of Caritas Ukraine noted how each person is cared for "as a person," and not "as a number." This “responding with love,” she said, has created an environment where Ukrainians feel safe and protected, and even encouraged to help one another.
The Caritas official pointed that they are only at the beginning of a response, and will need "continued accompaniment" on the "long road ahead.”
Fr. Grynevych addressed the dramatic effects of the war on children, especially as his work aims to help children in nearly 25 orphanages and through other types of care.
He called for a serious reflection on “what will happen when families can go back to familial life.” He warned that amid this rampant separation of the nation’s families, some fathers have died and others who are still alive will never be the same after seeing the traumatic reality of war and death.
“There is also a big gap in education,” he said, noting this began with the Covid-19 pandemic and has been dramatically exacerbated by the war.
He said it is very challenging to imagine the end of the war.
“The war,” he said, “won’t be ended with an agreement of peace, but when we forgive the evils we saw,” noting this will take a lot of work.
Also reflecting on his and the other Caritas' officials 30-minute private meeting with the Pope on Sunday, the Secretary General of Caritas-Spes Ukraine, said he was moved by the Pope’s deep interest in their work, experience and stories.
Silvia Sinibaldi attributed much of Caritas’ current effectiveness in helping Ukrainians, to their preparedness in Ukraine even before the war exploded in late February. The protocols they already instituted, she suggested, enabled them to react pragmatically when the war broke out.
She praised local partners and volunteers for their heroic efforts in these countries, and emphasized how they enable Caritas to operate effectively, both in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries.
Vatican News English asked about whether Caritas has ever been blocked from distributing supplies, or whether there has been interference as the Pontifical Foundation works to assist people and children.
“The question of security and safety is very important to us,” said Tetiana Stawnychy, noting, “It’s difficult to navigate it in a country under attack, where we don’t know where the next attack will be.
For the most part, she said, Caritas' safety and security protocols have been effective, especially since "some of them were used in the past by Caritas Ukraine in the buffer zones in Eastern Ukraine."
Fr. Vyacheslav expressed concern about safety in occupied areas, referring to a center "in an occupied zone where people still wish to carry out their work, saying 'it is our mission, our city.'”
Since the beginning of the war through early May, Caritas Ukraine and Caritas-Spes Ukraine have assisted more than 1.2 million people in the region through their 50 local centres spread across the country. Caritas has distributed food to nearly 1 million people in the region and has provided shelter and accommodation to more than 200,000 others.
Several Caritas local centers are working to educate young people and women with children on how to be less vulnerable to human trafficking.
Caritas has also provided medicine and hygiene kits, as well as education and protection programs.