While the war in Ukraine continues and the world’s attention is on the chances of success of the negotiations, for those who remain in the bomb-torn country, the options to survive largely depend on international solidarity – a front on which the Salesians are always on the front line.
Without lighting and heating for days, sheltered in a cellar, with all the shops closed and being able to buy bread only when it was distributed on the street … this was the life of Natalka with her children, aged five and two, before leaving Kharkiv three weeks ago.
“The worst part was the cold for my children because all I could think about was what I was leaving behind – my husband, but most of all what I was gaining – saving their lives.”
They traveled for several days on foot, but also by bus and train until they reached Medyka, the border crossing with Poland. “The worst was the cold and the snow, carrying a baby in my arms, a big backpack, and holding the other by the hand. It is very unjust what we are suffering,” she says.
Now that she is welcomed by the Salesians, it is not as if everything is resolved. The children are frightened as soon as they hear the sound of a plane and there is always fear for the fate of her husband, whom she calls every day. But Natalka is happy as long as she knows he is fine, and he is consoled by knowing the solidarity that the family receives, “from the Salesians, above all.”
Natalka’s family is certainly not the only one to be welcomed by the Polish Salesians. Overall, the Sons of Don Bosco from the four Polish Provinces have prepared 1,117 places in Salesian refugee centers throughout Poland, of which 501 are already occupied and 366 are free. They are currently sharing what they have, but as maintaining such a large number of refugees is costly, they will need more and more support.
Despite the threat of war, they also managed to send dozens of humanitarian convoys to Ukraine. They bring medical supplies, food, blankets, generators, personal hygiene items. The synergy is significant: for example, thanks to a collaboration with the Mission Office of Bonn, in Germany, they managed to purchase 300 camp beds with as many pillows and duvets and 600 sets of bed linen and towels.
Another testimony of effective and efficient Salesian support comes from Zhytomyr, Ukraine, about 130 km from Kyiv, where last Wednesday, 16 March, the local Salesian house received a new car as a gift.
Fr Michał Wocial, a Salesian who works at the Salesian house, had asked for help after the old school bus broke down on one of the various trips to help refugees flee to Poland.
“It was a priority operation for us,” says Fr Jacek Zdzieborski, Director of the Salesian Mission Office in Warsaw. “We were able to quickly find a seller of an 8-seater minivan with a large trunk, as was needed. A week later, the vehicle had already been purchased, imported, registered, and insured.”
And they were not long in finding a donor: the purchase was soon financed by “Missioni Don Bosco”, the Salesian Mission Office of Turin.