“… We pray for peace and that there will never be another war!!!” - The Prayers of Ukrainian Children Touch the Ministry of the UOC of the USA
“… We pray for peace and that there will never be another war!!!” - The Prayers of Ukrainian Children Touch the Ministry of the UOC of the USA

The war in Ukraine has triggered the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. As a result, millions of people, especially children from Ukraine will be spending this year’s Nativity of Christ season far from home, familiarity and loved ones.

The ongoing war in Ukraine continues to severely impact people's lives, damage critical civilian infrastructure and livelihoods, and trigger mandatory evacuations of civilians from front-line communities and driving high humanitarian needs. Deadly attacks with humanitarian consequences have continued across Ukraine since the full-scale invasion by the Russian Federation in February 2022. According to the data of the United Nations, over 28,350 civilian casualties have been verified as of October 2023, and this number is likely to be considerably higher. On 5 October, a missile attack against a funeral reception in Hroza, Kharkiv Oblast, killed 59 civilians. The attack was the deadliest in 2023 in terms of civilian casualties. Also, the deteriorating security situation and heightened risks in the areas near Kupiansk City and in front-line areas of eastern Donetska, southern Khersonska and south-eastern Zaporizka oblasts triggered mandatory evacuations of children with families. As of September, 3.7 million people are internally displaced. Attacks on Black Sea ports and grain storage facilities continue and add another burden on farmers already struggling with heavy land mine contamination, particularly in Ukraine's breadbasket regions, including Kharkivska, Khersonska and Mykolaivska oblasts.

With winter's arrival and temperatures plummeting below zero, attacks on energy infrastructure, water and gas systems could further aggravate the situation, particularly near the front line. Since the beginning of 2023, attacks have continued to damage homes and energy facilities. People most affected by the war could face a tough winter and be forced to make difficult choices such as between warmth and other services. The UN and its partners estimate that 1.7 million people will need winter assistance, particularly in front-line oblasts, through March 2024. Provision of such assistance is ongoing, and over 360,000 people received winter support as of October.

Education facilities are severely damaged, disrupting the education of children, including those who faced displacement and evacuation from front-line areas. From February 2022 to October 2023, nearly 3,800 Ukrainian educational institutions have been damaged or destroyed, severely impacting education in front-line oblasts like Donetska, Kharkivska, Khersonska, Luhanska and Zaporizka. This disruption has affected over 5 million children, with only about 30 per cent attending schools, and most displaced children, including those in front-line areas, are schooled through online or combined learning.

Over 1,300 attacks on health care have been reported by the World Health Organization (WHO), making access to health services extremely challenging in areas close to the front line, leaving millions with invisible scars, trauma and health-related issues. WHO noted that over 50 per cent of global health-care attacks from February 2022 to October 2023 occurred in Ukraine, severely limiting access to medical services in the most affected areas. The situation is most critical near the front line, with people struggling for adequate medical care. The full-scale war has escalated health needs, including emergency, trauma and mental health services, and could worsen this winter due to ongoing attacks. Nearly 10 million people, particularly children and people with disabilities, are at risk of acute stress and other mental health conditions.

Namely in these areas of destruction, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA continues to provide daily logistical and nutritional assistance.

With the blessing of His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and the Diaspora, Archbishop Daniel has actively been coordinating aid to Ukraine thanks to the generous donations of the faithful of the Church. With the help of the clergy and volunteers of the Donetsk Eparchy of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, daily shipments and distributions of food, medicine and supplies have been conducted by Very Rev. Fr. Kostyantyn Kuznetson, his wife Natalia and a group of volunteers under the spiritual leadership of His Eminence Metropolitan Serhiy of Donetsk.

In his note to Archbishop Daniel, Fr. Kostyantyn recently wrote: “…the town of Kostyantynivka is located on one side 20 km from the city of Bakhmut, 10 km away from Chasy Yaru, and on the other side 10 km from Toretsk. Despite the night bombings, our volunteers continue to bring light to people! Every day, people from the local communities come to our center for help: displaced people, pregnant women, large families, single mothers, beggars, disabled people, pensioners, and those who have lost their jobs. Our Eleos-Kostyantynivka social service team, despite daily arrivals, does everything to make life a little easier for those in need!”

Recently, the humanitarian aid was delivered to the residents of the de-occupied villages of the Lyman community. One of the volunteers, sent a note to the Office of the Consistory of the UOC of the USA: “…all along the road, explosions were heard, as much as it it scary , it is also a reason to rejoice, because there are our boys and girls who defend our holy, long-suffering Ukraine and for whom we pray every day! But, unfortunately, we also hear the arrival of bombs; we are so used to that sound and the noise alarm signals…”

Packages with high-quality products and hygiene products were brought to the needy. Almost every day, Fr. Kostyantyn and Dobrodiyka Natalia drive around the cities and villages of the Donetsk region. 

Sending a note of encouragement back to the volunteers of the war zone in Ukraine, Vladyka Daniel quickly posted: “…despite the daily shelling and airstrikes, as a Church we continue our common mission of mercy, helping all those in need. Our goal is to work for the preservation of the human life - people and victory for the nation of Ukraine!”

And then there are moments of hope… Regardless of the ongoing destruction of war, the children of Ukraine share in the spirit of Christmas season - in the celebration of the life of St. Nicholas. Toys, candies and joy were delivered by the charitable ministry of the UOC of the USA to the youngest victims of this horrific tragedy of the 21st century. The children of the war-torn region of Ukraine live in the conditions of war, hear the sounds of alarms and daily bombings. They had to grow up early, they had to learn the sense of daily fear for themselves and their parents, many of whom defend Ukraine in the ranks of the Armed Forces, and some children have parents who have already made their ultimate sacrifice. As the Church, we want to console these children, give them momentary reasons for joy, smile, return them to their carefree childhood. To the question of what they dream about, the answer and desire of all is one - “… we pray for peace and that there will never be another war!!!”

Once again, Fr. Kostyantyn sends another message: “…we work every day despite the fatigue, there are many people and everyone has their own life story. Some lost their home, and others the most valuable - the life of a loved one… Infinite thanks to everyone who joined this holiday and gave emotions of happiness to our people, but especially the children, because as we know, there are no other people's children - they are ours! Because of your donations, and the help of other volunteers and generous people, we continue to issue packages with quality products and hygiene. We bring light, goodness and mercy…”

May the Lord hear the prayers and petitions of the young, and the young at heart, and grant victory to Ukraine and peace for the nation for generations to come.   May the children live in a free Ukraine, where they can also enjoy the twinkling lights of Christmas and in wonder gaze up at the Christmas star and await the miracles of the season.

The Prayers of Ukrainian Children Touch the Ministry of the UOC of the USA

Photos by Fr. Kostyantyn Kuznetsov

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