The Coronavirus has also reached Eastern Europe. For Ukraine, the spread of this disease could have devastating consequences. Already, even before the arrival of COVID-19, the ongoing civil war, combined with a pensions crisis, had exposed the frail and elderly in particular to the risk of sickness and poverty. Consequently, the international Catholic pastoral charity and pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN International), has just approved emergency aid for priests and religious in order to enable them to continue carrying out their pastoral and social ministry among the most needed people. Below, four religious sisters who are currently working right on the front line, bringing God‘s love to the suffering and elderly, talk about their work during the time of the coronavirus in Ukraine.
Sister Daniela Pukhalska is a nursing sister in Odessa on the Black Sea. She works in the infectious diseases section and consequently has first-hand experience of the suffering. „At the moment many patients are coming to us with suspected COVID–19“, she tells ACN. “A few days ago we were told that from now on we must only accept patients who have already tested positive. There is so much work to do that at the end of the day I feel absolutely exhausted.“ Even some of the doctors have panicked, she tells us, and a couple have actually left. For her part, however, she remains relatively relaxed. “As our boss always tells us, we knew what kind of a department we were working in and what we might have to expect.“
She herself is not afraid of infection. As a religious sister of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, she is sure this confidence is down to the grace of God, and to the fact that many people are praying for her and for the sick. She says: „I know that many people are praying for us, for the doctors and all the staff, and we are very grateful for this. Please continue to pray for us, so that we do not lose our strength.“
Similarly hard-hit by the pandemic are those religious sisters caring for the frail and elderly. For example, Sister Justiniana, who works in the elderly care home of Mary the Mother of Mercy in Lviv in West Ukraine. Here the sisters of Saint Joseph are caring for 25 bedridden people who require round-the-clock medical care and supervision. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic they have tightened their security measures and it is now forbidden to visit patients, Sister Justiniana tells ACN, and the staff have to wear masks and protective clothing. Everything has to be deep-cleaned with disinfectant. „We are afraid that we may soon run out of the necessary equipment and medicines, because it is difficult to get new supplies. But despite everything we‘re trying not to panic but instead to soothe and protect our patients.“
She too finds new strength and courage in her faith for the daily battle. „In early April we commemorated the 15th anniversary of the death of Saint John Paul II. We recalled his words – ‚Do not be afraid! Open the doors to Christ!‘ If we open our hearts to Christ and welcome him, then we are under his special protection. And so we entrust our homes and all the world to him.“
Sister Jana Lypivska of the Benedictine Missionary Sisters (giving the thumbs up in the photo) has been working for the past two years in the parish of Saint Aloysius, in Zhmerynka in the centre of the country. Until recently her main duty was giving catechetical instruction to children and adults and preparing them for the Sacraments. But Sister Jana had additionally always been caring for the elderly and needy people in the parish. Now though, she explains that this has become her most important duty. „In this difficult time of lockdown above all, these people need our help and the witness of our lives. Many of them ask us for our prayers. We open up our chapels so that one person at a time can pray there, and we run errands or try to simply be there for these people during these difficult times.“
Already before the pandemic, the economic situation in Ukraine was dire, on account of the war that has been dragging on in the country ever since 2014. Few people have any savings, and the loss of employment as a result of the pandemic has pushed many to the brink of survival. This is something also felt by the sisters in Ivano-Frankivsk in West Ukraine. Sister Elena Gnadziuk belongs to the congregation of the Myrrh-bearing Sisters (the Myronositsi). Their convent is visited daily by around a dozen people living in poverty. The sisters share their food and other necessities with them. There are more and more of them every day „Every time I hear the doorbell and open our convent door, I see people in need. They include homeless people, and those who have lost their jobs and are now in financial difficulties. Yesterday a woman came to us asking for food for her three children. After her there was a man asking for food for his mother… Among the needy there are many people living on their own“, Sister Elena explains.
ACN has been supporting all these communities for years now, thereby enabling the sisters to better fulfill their specific charism of care and service to the poorest of the poor. Our support helps them train new vocations, support their own sick and elderly sisters and provide help for those who serve others absolutely free and without charge. Again and again the sisters tell us just how very important and precious this aid is to them