Visiting Saint Martin’s Center in Fastiv
An elderly couple that was hiding in a basement for over a month. A woman, whose house was completely destroyed. A charismatic priest and determined volunteers, who for months have been bringing humanitarian aid to those in need.
These are people we visited during our last trip to Ukraine. It was a short trip that lasted for a few days, but it was intense and full of emotions. Our visits to the countries where bring help usually are like that. We do not go there to volunteer for many months and we do not create offices there. The key is to cooperate with local foundations as no one knows the reality on the ground better than them.
That’s just a reminder of how we work. Ukraine is no different. Over there, we have been cooperating for many months with Saint Martin’s Center in Fastiv that helps people in different regions of the country. In this reportage I will entirely focus on the humanitarian aspect and on people’s stories as they are really worth telling.
They spent a month in a basement
I will not describe our journey to Ukraine in details. It was largely smooth. The only inconvenience was rather heavy snowfall that began the moment we crossed the border. Late in the evening we arrived in Lviv where we stayed over, and in the morning we dag our car out of the snow set off to Fastiv. Roughly halfway the snow was removed and the road was covered with salt allowing for a smooth journey. Why am I writing about it? Because it shows that despite the ongoing war, there is no paralysis or chaos. The shops and gas stations are open (in May last year, there were petrol shortages, but now everything is alright). Of course, we are talking about the part of Ukraine stretching from the border with Poland to Kyiv. I do not know what the situation beyond is. At some point we will probably be helping over there as well. But right now we are focusing on places that were under occupation and now they are slowly going back to normal.
But it is not like there are no problems here anymore. There are regular electricity disruptions due to badly damaged infrastructure. In many places, the mines and unexploaded bombs are still a great threat, especially in the farmlands where they pose a huge problem for farmers.
We spent almost three days in Fastiv. We visited a kindergarten and a school run by the Center as well as two other centers help is provided to the residents of the nearby towns and villages as well as internally displaced persons from eastern Ukraine. We also visited the village where, in cooperation with the Center, we fixed the damaged rooftops.
We helped to fix over one hundred roofs
That was the beginning of our support for the victims of the Ukraine war. In April 2022, we started cooperating with the Center which decided that the fixing of rooftops would one of its priorities pointed out by the residents. People wanted to go back to normal lives. Some wanted to return, some others like Olga and Alexander never left. One of those people was another person that we visited whose name is Ms. Kasia, but she is known among the locals as “aunt Kasia”.
She lives in the Zahal’tsi village located west of Borodyanka. Her house was totally destroyed – only the foundations remained. One of the humanitarian organizations built a little modular house for her. We financed the roofing. It is incredible how small are the needs of people who went through so much. The house is less than 20 square meters, but Ms. Kasia is happy that it is warm inside and that she can live in decent conditions. She praised the volunteers from Saint Martin’s Center, including Denys who was our guide, for showing up immediately after the Russians were pushed out of those territories and starting to work as soon as it was possible.
Our way of working was similar to other places that we have visited. Immediately after the main roads leading to the villages that had been occupied were cleared, the Center’s volunteers went to see the situation on the ground. They would visit families that remained after the invasion or returned after liberation. After estimating the damages and in cooperation with the local authorities they would start working, starting from those most in need. Denys told us that he would usually go to work early in the morning and finish off in the evening. He wanted to check as many addresses as possible to allow help being delivered in a smooth and organized way.
We did not have enough time to meet with more families. We visited, among others, Ludmila who is a preschool teacher. During the occupation, she was staying with her family in Zhitomir. She went back home as soon as it was possible. We helped to fix the roof over her house as well.
Saint Martin’s Center
An important part of our trip was the chance to get a closer look at work carried out by Saint Martin’s Center in Fastiv ran by a Dominican friar Father Misha. The center has existed for several years. Before the current war, its main activity was providing care to orphans and organizing camps for children from Donbas. When the war erupted, the Center’s volunteers started humanitarian action. First they carried out evacuation of children from eastern Ukraine, then they started providing food and cleaning products to people from the liberated Kyiv oblast. They also began fixing houses. Currently, they look after, among others, internally displaced people and provide humanitarian aid to places in the east, such as Bakhmut, Kharkiv, Kherson and Izyum.
Every morning there is a briefing in the Center’s cafe where volunteers receive their tasks. Everyone is very determined and devoted to their work. Among the volunteers there are also two Poles – Marzena and Staszek.
One of the permanent activities of Saint Martin’s Center is running a school and an integrated preschool and it has not been ceased despite the war. We were nicely surprised to find out that Polish language is one of the things that children learn over there. The Centers activities are characterized by a high level of organization. Everyone here has a role to play and tries to fulfill it to the best of his or her abilities. It is of course the merit of Father Misha, but also all the other people involved in the Center’s mission.