Caritas Ukraine President Tetiana Stawnychy speaks on ICF’s work during russia’s war against Ukraine

Wednesday, 23 March 2022, 21:06
– Ms. Stawnychy, we have been living under wartime in the center of Europe for over twenty days. Does Caritas already have experience of administering assistance in the areas of active hostilities?

– The Caritas network spreads all over the globe, and different countries have had different experiences, but as my partners from Western Europe told me they had never seen Caritas become so active as Caritas Ukraine did in such extraordinary circumstances.

– Is this readiness for the situation that developed after the full-scale russian invasion of Ukraine — indeed the result of careful planning and qualified forecasts?

– The United States, referring to its intelligence, warned of a possible full-scale russian war against Ukraine. So we, as a charitable organization, decided to take up some prep work. After all, war always affects civilians in the first place. Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable…

We decided to better prepare for different scenarios and possible consequences. And in mid-January this year, we invited our colleagues from Catholic Relief Services (American Caritas), which works abroad. They are emergency specialists. Our American colleagues worked with us for several weeks in Ukraine. The training was very specific, especially, concerning the repertoire of potential population displacement. Each of our centers began to develop action plans for various circumstances. When the war started, we were just finishing our preparations. So I can say that we were mostly ready for our tasks because we had a certain response plan.

From the very first day of the military invasion, we convened the panel of all heads of all Caritas branches and launched plans that had been previously developed. And when the first refugees arrived, we could already provide the necessary assistance. Since then, we have analyzed the situation daily and have taken appropriate action.

– Caritas is present in almost all EU countries — Germany, Poland, Austria, Spain, Italy… Are there any countries that have been particularly active in offering their aid?

– Germany and Austria have always been our principal partners. For the last eight years, in the years when the war against Ukraine was already going on, they were of great help to us. The United States have been also active.

The aid received by Ukrainians through Caritas can be divided into different categories. The broadest ones are, of course, those including projects from different partners specially targeted at helping refugees with food, hygiene kits, shelters, etc. In addition, ordinary people from all over the world, especially from Europe, collect and bring aid that we receive and deliver to where there is the greatest need. Also, many volunteers come to our centers to help or make monetary donations to our activities through banking institutions and thus join our ministry.

Throughout the first two weeks it was just general help from everyone and in everything. Now it has begun to take on a more specific form and will be aimed to provide help to people belonging to the corresponding category. We have been working with people affected by the war since 2014. However, this work was carried out mostly in eastern Ukraine, in the frontline zone. And now we want to apply our experience to the whole of Ukraine, because today the east of Ukraine has ‘enveloped’ the entire country.

– How has the budget of Caritas Ukraine changed since the beginning of the full-scale invasion on February 24?

– The needs are increasing before our eyes and the budget is growing accordingly. Now our budget for four months has already exceeded the last year one. So, we expect that our budget will respond to the war crisis and will surpass the € 10 million level.

Caritas’ work focuses on helping displaced persons and refugees in all our centers and at the border. In addition, Caritas has already received and donated more than 520 tons of aid from partners and philanthropists; most of those things went to central, eastern and southern Ukraine – aid to about 70,000 people. For example, from the west of Ukraine we send several wagons of cargo to Kyiv every day, where our employees and volunteers unload and distribute it according to priority needs. What is necessary is left in the capital, the rest is shipped further, in particular to Kharkiv.

Where it is possible, Caritas continues to work within the framework of its traditional projects and programs – with old beneficiaries who remain in their homes, with the homeless, for whom we prepare thousands of hot lunches every day throughout Ukraine, with bed-ridden lonely people, who have no one to receive care from except from us. We work with those who have lost their homes and need temporary shelter, with large families who lack basic necessities, such as diapers, baby food, basic hygiene products. We provide psychological and social support to war victims. However, this aspect is just starting to gain momentum. At the railway station in Chernivtsi, we have already created a children’s space, where our animators play with children, while moms can relax a bit…

Our team from Drohobych went to the border encampments bringing with them tents and heaters to  relieve the cold and longtime waiting fatigue for the refugees with children. The situation is very dynamic, and we try to monitor real needs and respond to them. Now we see that many people cross the border by buses, while having nothing to eat or to drink generally. So we bring them food and drink.

Every day, Caritas centers provide roof for almost 1,400 people. This number is varying.

– Do many volunteers join?

– Very many. Our centers have not yet provided us with exact figures, but on average there are 30 to 60 active people of good will in each center, who make our help more effective and efficient. At the same time, everyone tells us that there are an incredible number of people willing to help, so our team of volunteers will only grow. Much of Caritas’ ministry is now done by volunteers, especially in parishes.

– I have a personal question. You are a US citizen. A few weeks before the invasion, America actively urged its citizens to leave Ukraine. You stayed…

– I am the president of Caritas Ukraine and I believe in the mission of Caritas. I didn’t even think about leaving Ukraine at that time.

– Whom is Caritas Ukraine accountable to?

– Caritas Ukraine is accountable to its founders – the Patriarchal Curia of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, one of our dioceses abroad and, of course, our foreign partners.

One of the features of Caritas is complete transparency. We regularly perform international audits, we make all purchases as transparently as possible, evaluate the price-quality ratio to determine the contract award criteria for the procurement of goods and services.

Interviewed by Oksana Klymonchuk


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