Letters from Ukraine
Pictured:The local Roma children are able to attend class at the Order of Malta center. They are keen for the education and each child had dreams as to what they want to do when they grew up.
Australian Members, Nicholas and Elizabeth Trongale, who are volunteering in Ukraine to assist the Order of Malta relief effort, share the second installment of their experiences.
Missed the Trongale’s first report? Read it online.
We are now in our second week, and I am delighted to say that a group of young volunteers from surrounding countries Malteser International have arrived to help. They are terrific, smart, capable young people taking time out of their work lives to give their support. Rasmus is from Denmark, Csongor, Aletta, Daniel from Hungary quickly became friends to me and Nick. There were others, too, from Budapest Malteser group and together they formed the much-needed cavalry, making light work of all the loading and unloading. They all brought a renewed energy and were great fun to be around.
Yesterday 3 vans set off. Nick & I were driving one van. We left in convoy at 2 am to drive through the mountains heading east to Vinnytsia to give donations. Vinnytsia is about 160 mi southwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. It was a good 8-hour drive where we saw beautiful villages & towns. As the sun rose, the sky remained grey, but we were struck by the beauty of the land, the rich soil of the farms along the way, multi-coloured fields as far as the eye could see. We arrived at Vinnytsia and everyone was waiting for us at the community centre that was a big hall, music rooms & a gym where children could play and have fun. As usual, we formed a chain of people & unloaded mattresses, beds, food, pampers & supplies. The supplies bring a dignity to a proud people that just want to be able to get on and live their lives, raise their children and contribute to their community, their country.
Just as we were leaving the community centre an air raid siren went off. No one was frightened by the sound, just on alert. There is a tolerance and a weary resignation that this is part of their new normal. At such times however, children in school will go into a basement shelter. A warming siren can go off a number of times a day. A Russian attack in July 2022 killed 28 people including 3 children in this town. Despite the risk people continue about their business – what else can they do.
We met such lovely people yesterday. I admired their bravery and determination to succeed. However, I also realize the situation in Ukraine is quite complicated. While we are here only to help a people in need, one cannot help feel perplexed at the brutal attack on the country, and feel an awe at how the people are determined to fight and retain their independence. I met some children who had been displaced from Kyiv after the city had been heavily attacked. Their homes had been destroyed and they became part of the many who were displaced. They were now living in accommodation in Vinnytsia and lined up to say hallo to us as we pulled into the driveway. They were so precious & beautiful but still in shock from the experience of their lives being turned upside down. I could see the stress on their faces. Quiet, watchful, cautious. I played with them to make them laugh and maybe distract them for a little while. The elderly and the children are the hardest hit by the war. It is difficult for the children to understand. We work to give them hope and a little solace.
After a long day we began our drive home. As we came to the Carpathian Mountains that we needed to cross to get home, it began to snow. The landscape and the fir trees lining the road looked gorgeous. However, as the night was descending it was quite dangerous on the mountain road. On two different sections of the road, cars had crashed. Nick did a great job getting us home safely. In the house tradition of solidarity, the others wanted to stay up to eat & drink. After a 22-hour workday, we were cross-eyed with exhaustion and apologized that we needed to go to bed.
While our time here is ending, I do know these days, these people, our fellow volunteers and this place will stay in our hearts forever. It has been a privilege to have had this time. May God bless the people of the Ukraine and bring the war to an end swiftly.