A Catholic priest in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv is coordinating humanitarian efforts from a basement bomb shelter, where he has taken in 36 other people, mostly children, and their pets.
Father Vyacheslav Grynevych is the executive director of Caritas-Spes, a Catholic charity currently seeking to provide food, drinking water, safe accommodation, and hygiene kits to those affected by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
As the sound of explosions and sirens filled Ukraine’s capital in recent days, the priest has had to continue his efforts from a basement shelter.
“We prepare projects and coordinate activities, even when hiding in the bomb shelters,” Father Grynevych said via Zoom at an online press conference on March 1.
“In my house, we have 37 people — children, generally with mothers — they felt this safe place in our church, in our house,” he said.
“Generally these people come from our neighbors. And also they have dogs, they have birds, they have cats, so we have a small zoo.”
The priest shares photos of the pet birds and cats on his social media account, along with videos of the children in his care praying the Rosary together as they hide.
Father Grynevych spoke during an online press conference organized by Caritas Internationalis, which was disrupted by hackers.
Satellite images indicated that the 40 mile-long Russian military convoy with tanks was approaching Kyiv as he spoke. Later on March 1, Russia’s defense ministry urged residents to leave the city, saying that its forces were preparing to launch “high-precision strikes.”
“As a priest, I have my reflection about the situation … because, you know, war makes both adults and children cry … We learned it when hiding in basements during the airstrikes,” he said.
“Aside from material losses that can be revealed over time, the pain and fear that people will experience will take very long to recover,” he added.
On February 28, the priest had a chance to go out to buy food before the city’s curfew came into effect at 8 p.m. He shared a photo of empty shelves in a grocery store in Kyiv.
“In the city, there were many soldiers, Ukrainian soldiers,” Father Grynevych said.
“I saw a lot of cars that were destructed by bombs,” he said.
Caritas-Spes, the organization he leads, is also supporting people who have gathered at Ukraine’s western border, providing temporary housing in shelters.
He said that Caritas-Spes has the capacity to help shelter 400 children. The organization has already accepted 200 children as of February 28.
“We are equipped with shelters in five cities, one of which is in a children’s hospital for pregnant women, women who just delivered, and children,” he said.
Caritas-Spes, operated by Ukraine’s Latin Rite Catholic Church, is one of two organizations affiliated with Caritas Internationalis in Ukraine. The other, Caritas Ukraine, is overseen by the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, to which the majority of Ukrainian Catholics belong.
Caritas Internationalis has launched an emergency appeal to provide relief to Ukraine after Russia launched the full-scale invasion on Feb. 24. Donations can be made at www.caritas.org/ukraine-appeal-22/.
“We understand that these are only the first days of a terrible war, which is like a terrible dream that has enwrapped our society,” Father Grynevych said.
(Photo of the explosion in Kyiv courtesy of CNA/Giovanni Cancemi, via Shutterstock.)
By Courtney Mares, Catholic News Agency