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  • Writer's pictureJohn Mortensen

Interview with Fr. Kolasa about Kharkiv

Updated: Feb 18, 2023

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with Fr. Yuriy Kolasa about the help he has been sending to the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. The Greek Catholic bishop there is doing heroic work. He and his 25 priests are doing everything they can to bring people the sacraments and humanitarian aid. They are also taking special care to seek out the elderly and disabled who may not have the ability to seek help. You can help by donating to Bishop Tuchapets in Kharkiv.

The following is a news release on the situation that was published in Ukrainian and translated by Fr. Kolasa for publication here:

The humanitarian aid we support is usually distributed through the Church’s internal network of eparchies, exarchates, and parishes throughout Ukraine. Most of the donations have been used for medicines, medical supplies, ambulances, food aid, and care for internally displaced persons. We are also committed to supporting the priests who often remain with the people without any resources, especially in the areas most affected by the war. Their presence and their pastoral and humanitarian care of the suffering people is crucial for us today.

Just recently, we transferred €30,000 to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Bishop of Kharkiv, Vasyl Tuchapets, who, together with 70 volunteers, including three doctors, is trying to provide basic care for more than 2,000 people seeking help a day in the city of Kharkiv. At the same time, Bishop Tuchapets and the 25 priests of his diocese are organizing help for elderly people left alone, disabled people or mothers with children who cannot leave their homes due to the ongoing attacks from Russia, which is only 30 kilometers away. In December, with more than EUR 20,000, we financed the purchase, transport, and installation of a diesel generator with a power of 100 kilowatts for the “Patriarch’s House of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary” in Lviv, where many internally displaced people from different areas of Ukraine are housed with their families, children, and the elderly and receive appropriate basic services. We have also started the purchase of 12 ambulances for the hospitals in Ukraine.

“In Kharkiv, it is simply a matter of surviving the winter,” Vasyl Tuchapets, the Greek Catholic bishop, describes the situation in his hometown. He looks exhausted. Two days without electricity, water, heating and Internet are behind him. For months, Russia has been attacking the infrastructure of Ukraine’s second largest city with S – 300 missiles and rocket launchers. The number of internal refugees from the destroyed small towns on the Russian – Ukrainian border has increased sharply in the last month.

Unemployment has become an additional burden for the majority of the population. The large industrial enterprises have been destroyed. Private businesses are barely keeping their heads above water. “People are exhausted, their only wish is peace as soon as possible!” the 55-year-old bishop described the prevailing mood. But at the same time, he says, no one is questioning whether to defend Ukraine – on the contrary.

As a Catholic bishop, he has decided to stay with the people. His cathedral is a headquarters of humanitarian aid. Currently, he and his volunteers are mainly caring for the numerous refugees who have found refuge in the city from the surrounding countryside. The priests of his diocese also stay with their parishes and combine pastoral care with charitable aid. As is usual in the Eastern Catholic Churches, many of them are married, but at present they live separately from their families, who have taken shelter in western Ukraine or abroad. Since their own homes have been destroyed, they care for the parishes, some of which are far away, from Kharkiv. The commitment of the bishop and his clergy is also bearing fruit at another level. In the former atheist stronghold of Kharkiv, more and more adults are asking to be baptized and are actively participating in church life. “Many people are discovering the church because the church is with the people,” the bishop says.

There is no end to the need and the winter remains a challenge. There continues to be a lack of food, medicine, and warm clothing. The bishop is a realist. He knows that the situation has also worsened considerably for people in the West. Nevertheless, he continues to rely on their generous support.

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