UKRAINE: Salesian missionaries rescue children and families after invasion
Salesians working on evacuations and providing safety
(MissionNewswire) Salesian missionaries have been working in Ukraine providing education and social development services in cities across the country including Kyiv, Zhytomyr, and Lviv. On the eastern front in Dnipro, Salesian Father Oleh Ladnyuk has been military chaplain to Ukrainian troops since 2014, when the Donbas conflict broke out. He also normally travels between villages in the area to offer Salesian youth ministry courses in Greek Catholic parishes. The invasion has changed Fr. Ladnyuk’s work. He is now working on evacuations and providing safety and support to children and families.
A small baby named Tymofij wore a blue hat and was wrapped in a warm tracksuit with his mother by his side when he escaped from Lysychansk to the Luhansk region. He was taken away to safety by Fr. Ladnyuk. Upon arriving, Fr. Ladnyuk said, “Now the first thing to do is to eat, then sleep. Tomorrow we will think about the rest.”
After more than 12 hours of travel, Fr. Ladnyuk still wanted to tell their story even though he felt exhausted. He had just returned from driving a small convoy of two mini-buses and a car with families. The journey began in the morning from the Salesian house in Dnipro, 124 miles (200 kilometers) from Donbas.
In the hours immediately following the invasion, Fr. Ladnyuk saw people stunned in the streets, lines of cars in search of fuel and people at ATMs to withdraw as much cash as possible. He heard of the first bombings and saw the first deaths. Then he left once again for Lysychansk, accompanied by Father Igor Opafsky. Everything had already been organized.
Fr. Ladnyuk said, “We’re going to the parish priest, Father Sergio Palamarchuk. He is gathering civilians who want to leave and we are taking them away. We hope to get there. We have to go a long way and we don’t know if the military will let us through. We are going with what we have.”
The road from Dnipro goes through Kostyantynivka and eastward. It is not an easy road in wartime. Fr. Ladnyuk explained, “In the opposite direction, we encountered rows of cars loaded with people and things: you could see that they were running away. And the closer you get to the front, the more the presence of the military is felt. You understand that I can’t say much, but there were many troops. When they passed close by, the danger could be felt in the air, so we tried to speed up.”
Lysychansk looks like an emptied city now. There is no one along the wide avenues, the houses already seem abandoned. Fr. Ladnyuk has rescued 12 people including women and Tymofij, just two weeks old. “These are not whole families, but pieces of families that split up. Fathers and mothers ensure their children are safe, then decide to stay behind—at home, under the bombs.”
After the trip, Fr. Ladnyuk returned to Dnipro. There are many people in need there that Salesians can still help. Salesians in Ukraine will continue to provide support to children and families while Salesians around the globe work to provide humanitarian relief to those in need.
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