NEWARK, N.J. – The Charitable Fund of St. John’s Church in Newark, N.J., is entering its 12th year, and it can safely be said that this has been a learning experience for everyone involved in the projects for the fund, be it here in the United States or in Ukraine.
Organizers for the fund have learned that Ukraine is struggling with more poverty than ever imagined. No matter how much the fund manages to help, it is never enough.
Organizers have also learned that there are wonderful, dedicated people in Ukraine who sacrifice time and effort to help others. The impoverished in Ukraine, on the other hand, are forever amazed not only by the concern shown by Ukrainian Americans for people whom they have never met, but also by their generosity.
What inspires fund volunteers the most in their never-ending work are the letters received from co-volunteers in Ukraine. They share the reality that surrounds them, much of which is heart-wrenching.
In a letter, Fr. Roman wrote that, “Here in Kyiv, COVID-19 is raging full force. The death toll is on the rise and hospitals don’t have enough beds for those who are deathly ill. Most of the oblasts are in lockdown. People are losing their jobs and there are many who are impoverished. We had many poor before and now it’s worse than ever. We continue to feed people in the street and we visit the poor in their homes but every day there are more and more people who come asking for help. People are truly barely surviving.”
With the help of nuns who have contacts with people in the occupied territories of Ukraine, the fund has managed to provide assistance to people who otherwise would not be able to receive help. The Sisters say that it is impossible to maintain contact through standard channels of communication. Someone has to travel outside the occupied zone and try to contact fund workers from there.
In another letter, Sister Maria wrote that the situation in certain areas is dire.
“Occupied Donetsk is in total anarchy,” Sister Maria wrote. “Every day brings fear and risk of death. The infrastructure has been completely destroyed. There are no jobs. And if people do manage to find a job, they get paid so little that this is not enough on which to survive. The senior citizens tend to suffer the most. They are so poor that they buy broken eggs, rotten apples and other second-rate products because this is all that they can afford.
It is difficult to imagine that something like this is possible in the 21st century. But this is the reality of certain parts of Ukraine. When people receive the bags of food which we buy for the money that you send, many of them are brought to tears, since they do not expect outside help, especially in the form of unspoiled food. As we see it, almost everyone in this part of Ukraine is needy.”
The letters from the Mykolayiv region in southern Ukraine are a little less dramatic, but are nonetheless very sad. People are hungry, and approach churches looking for food. Fr. Ihor in the city of Yuzhnoukrainsk started a soup kitchen that serves food every Sunday afternoon.
“The poverty that I see on a daily basis leaves my emotions raw. In this year of the pandemic, the number of people who have lost their health or lost their jobs has multiplied, yet the cost of gas, water and electricity has doubled. The future of those who are poor seems very bleak indeed,” Fr. Ihor said.
While larger cities often have programs that reach out to the poor, those who live in villages are often forgotten. There are a number of people who sacrifice their time and effort to help those who are most needy, and with their help, the fund has been able to make a difference in various corners of Ukraine.
Readers are encouraged to join the effort. Help the fund help those who are desperately in need of kindness! Tax-deductible donations can be made out to St. Johns Ukrainian Catholic Church and mailed to 719 Sanford Avenue, Newark, NJ 07106, specifying that a donation is marked for the Charitable Fund. Readers who have questions may contact Ksenia Hapij at firstname.lastname@example.org.