An explosion in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Feb. 24, 2022. | Giovanni Cancemi/Shutterstock.
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,” 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 neighbours. And also they have dogs, they have birds, they have cats, so we have a small zoo.”
Satellite images indicated that a 40 mile-long Russian military convoy with tanks was approaching Kyiv as he spoke. Later on March 1, Russia’s defence 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 Monday, 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,” 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 yesterday.
“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.
“We understand that these are only the first days of a terrible war, which is like a terrible dream that has enwrapped our society,” Grynevych said.