Australian Members Volunteer in Ukraine
In a remarkable display of courage and selflessness, Australian Members, Nicholas and Elizabeth Trongale, are volunteering in Ukraine to assist the Order of Malta relief effort. They share the below update from their self-funded trip.
Our days start early, break for a delicious homemade lunch at around 1:30pm where all the people working gather, sit and laugh together, then back to work for the afternoon until it gets dark. This experience of sharing bread together gives a wonderful sense of community. Given it is winter we lose daylight around 5pm. At the end of the workday, we are dropped off at the house belonging to the Order where the volunteers are housed. We are greeted warmly by Minzi, the dog that was sold with the house. Many people closed their homes up and just left. There are many vacant homes up and down the street. The population of this village has halved since the war began.
When we get home, we hope the electricity is on. Most of the time it is not. So, we light candles, eat salami, cheese and bread with a beer. We wait to see if the power comes on. There is a generator that will allow the lights to work. However, we have not had much luck with it operating. Nick and another volunteer, Theo from England, were in charge of turning the generator on and did well the first night. After that there were problems, and it would not start so we were without power. That meant choosing a cold shower that night or risk waiting until the morning. If power had come on early enough, we could hope for hot water. Too often the boiler did not have time to heat up, so it was a cold shower anyway- I am told that is good for you. I began to hope only for making a coffee in the morning and would be content enough with that to start my day. We have been lucky with the weather, very cold but no snow. The clothes we packed have served us well – thanks be to God.
A day may consist of receiving and organizing boxes of goods in the massive warehouse that receives donations from all over Europe. A truck may come in from an outlying village that we load with supplies for distribution. We have also started driving to pick up supplies in Romania and bringing them into Ukraine. Nick and I made two trips today. Getting through the Romanian border is quite easy but getting supplies into the Ukraine is challenging due to the required processes in place.
Before we know it we will be home. This has been a humbling and a life changing experience. People work so very hard and this war is quite devastating with no end in sight. Although the village where we are staying is not war torn we still feel the residual effects of the war. There is a breakdown of supply chains, electrical power; heat and water disruptions happening more often than not. The numbers of displaced people are staggering. Soldiers walk the streets and go door to door looking for men to recruit. Theo our new friend and fellow volunteer from England, works for the Order of Malta at the United Nations and will be drafting an article about the Order’s work in the Ukraine. He said the Order is doing more in the Ukraine than the Red Cross.
Our hosts have been most gracious and welcoming, sharing generously whatever they have. Before the war started the team here consisted of 12 workers. When the war began 10 workers left the country leaving a team of two. It seems most people with money or family in surrounding countries, have left. The Order’s base here in this region is very dependent on volunteers. It is unusual that volunteers stay for two weeks. Most volunteers come from OOM associations in surrounding countries, and they provide essential support for a few days as they take time off from their lives. The core workers usually work 6 days a week and are the heroes of this effort.
More than anything we pray this country, with its vast plains and mountains, it’s old cities, it’s proud people, who want only a hand up in this cruel war, will rebuild if it possibly can. And it will be better and offer more to the rest of the world. We feel such a gratitude to have this time here and be inspired by the spirit of the people. We will reflect on this experience for a long, long time.
Elizabeth Trongale, January 2023
Nicholas and Elizabeth’s humanitarian relief effort are just one example of members who have undertaken self-funded trips to Ukraine to provide support to those impacted by the war.
If you wish to support the relief effort in the Ukraine, please consider a donation to our Emergency Relief Fund. Gifts $2 and more are tax deductible for Australian taxpayers.