In addition to running the local chapter of Caritas, the Rev. Vasyl Ivanyuk has his hands full, shepherding six parishes and serving as a chaplain to those serving in the nearby front.
At Prophet Elijah Church, a moderately sized, eye-catching wooden building where he celebrates the Divine Liturgy every Sunday, he passively points to a sign. It reads: “With prayer and fasting we can stop war.”
Only when asked does he point out the church’s shattered yellow and white stained glass windows as scars of war.
“Three are from mortar shrapnel, one is from a rocket that came through here in July 2014,” Father Ivanyuk says. It was during this time that he saw an influx of seniors seeking help at the house of worship.
Some 600 displaced families sought refuge here through March 2015 at the height of the war, just as the second of two truces was being brokered in the Belarusian capital of Minsk.
The agreements have never quite taken hold.
“Half of the displaced we helped were elderly. We served 60 families a day, handing out 10 days’ worth of food [to each]. Altogether, we have distributed 300 tons of clothes and 17,000 food boxes since 2014,” Father Ivanyuk says.
Seniors are always the least demanding, he observed. They never ask for more, and are the most gracious.
He recounted the story of one couple. Both were 82 years old; both had walked a tortuous 24 miles in frigid February weather at the height of the war in 2015 to find safety. Units from the Ukrainian army picked them up on the government-controlled side and drove the pair to Father Ivanyuk, who arranged for their care.
On the day of the priest’s 25th wedding anniversary, the elderly man gave Father Ivanyuk a bouquet of flowers for his wife.
“It was obviously plucked from the city grounds and not bought,” the priest says. “It was the kindest gesture. They often return to show their gratitude, especially to our female volunteers.”
Although the human spirit is undoubtedly strong, pensioners can find it difficult to adapt to new circumstances, the priest notes.
“A mature tree can’t be easily transplanted,” he says of those who find themselves uprooted suddenly.