In the aftermath of the April 2014 Ukrainian revolution, the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, and protests by Russian-backed separatist groups, fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of East Ukraine (collectively called the “Donbass”) has been ongoing. Hundreds of citifies and settlements have been captured by Russian-led troops.
According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, between March 2014 and October 31, 2019, over 13,000 people (including at least 3,345 civilians) were killed in this fighting. The number of wounded is estimated at 29,000-31,000, including approximately 7,000-9,000 civilians.
In the territories occupied by Russian-led troops, there has also been ethnic and religious killing and repression, and thousands of homes and even entire settlements have been destroyed.
This has created a massive wave of internal displacement. More than one half million civilians in the Donbass region have been forced to migrate to other areas.
REHABILITATION OF CHILDREN LIVING IN THE WAR ZONE
One of the peacebuilding focuses of the Dominican Family is the rehabilitation of children who live in the war zone.
In the city of Fastiv, St. Martin de Porres Center is currently supported by a team of about 25 Dominican friars, sisters, laity, and other volunteers. Since its inception in 2005, its main goal has been to care for socially disadvantaged children: orphans, street children, sick children, and children from disadvantaged families.
Since the start of hostilities in Eastern Ukraine, the Center has opened its doors to children whose childhood has been poisoned by war: the daily experience of gunfire and explosions, the hatred and hostility of adults, the death of loved ones and friends, the loss of homes.
Since 2016, in cooperation with Christian Rescue Service (an initiative of lay Catholics in Kiev), St. Martin Center has adopted 31 groups of 7-8 children each, regardless of religion, from the combat zone. For 8-9 days they are offered a safe space to relax and play and access to treatment and rehabilitation, as well as spiritual accompaniment and instruction.
Each child is treated by a professional psychologist specialized in post-traumatic stress disorders in children. This experience enables these children to have a taste of a peaceful life (often for the first time). Many return to their families with a more positive and hopeful outlook and hence with greater resilience.
Masha (10): Everyone was worried that they would hit us (during the shelling). Vitalka, my little brother, was very afraid.
Andrey (14): Then, even when they stopped shooting, they hid away. It was very scary.
Anya (8): When I was about 5 years old, for two years we constantly had to go down and sit in the basement for long periods.
Sergey (15): Many left there (from the combat zone) for 1-2 months. Some came back, some didn’t. We didn’t have the opportunity to leave, we have a house there. It’s difficult to leave your home.
Victoria (15): What do I dream about? That the war will end as soon as possible and that I may have a good education.
VIOLATION OF CHILDREN’S RIGHTS
The children living in the war zone are particularly affected. For over five years they have been deprived of an adequate education since the schools lack necessary equipment. They are also deprived of basic cultural needs such as sports facilities, libraries or cinemas, many of which have been destroyed during the fighting.
Since so many terrible and violent events have dominated their lives during the occupation and the hostilities, many children, especially younger ones, have never experienced peace. There’s a great need for these children, as well as their parents, to encounter the Gospel to find hope and strength. Hence, there is need for contact and communication with pastoral workers, whether priests, religious, faithful and caring people.
Suggested intercessory prayer for week 2 (for Eucharist, Morning and Evening Prayer, Private Prayer)
For an end to the fighting in Ukraine and for the healing and well-being of the children who suffer from the trauma, violence, and displacement of war.