Religious Sisters of various congregations are active in humanitarian work in their monasteries and beyond

Susan KorahAngelica Blyzniuk ended up in the railway station in Lviv on Feb. 26, 2022, two days after the outbreak of a brutal war. Fleeing the relentless shelling that pounded Nikopol, her hometown in south-central Ukraine, she reached Lviv, numb with terror.

A year later, she described her flight in a written note to Sr. Iryna Khomyn of the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate.

“I was awake all night on the train, like everyone else,” Blyzniuk wrote. “Children were crying, people were sleeping in the aisles on the floor packed with suitcases, dogs, cats. Everyone was going away from the war. That night I was thinking about what my life would be like from now on, what would happen to my family, my parents, my house. There was an unbearable pain in my chest, and my head was in a mess.”

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The Sisters of St. Joseph in Kharkiv have been active in caring for physical and spiritual needs of children and adults displaced by the war in Ukraine.
Photo courtesy Sr. Raphaela Hodiy 

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Arriving in Lviv, she called a bishop whose number she happened to have, begging him for help. The bishop connected her with the Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, a congregation of the Ukrainian Catholic Church. That evening, she was welcomed, fed and accommodated in their monastery in Truskavets in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains near the Polish border, about an hour’s drive from Lviv.

As soldiers on the front lines defend their country against the Russian invasion, religious Sisters of various congregations are active in humanitarian work in their monasteries and beyond.

With the support of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) and other Canadian Catholic charities, they offer a wide range of services to war victims. Life in their once-sheltered monasteries has changed forever as they provide shelter, food, spiritual comfort and education to the internally displaced adults and children knocking at their doors, and helping others preparing to flee high-risk areas.

“From the first days of the war, we opened our houses for those fleeing the war,” Sr. Iryna of the Servants of Mary Immaculate said in an e-mail. “We provided shelter for 304 internally displaced persons.”

In addition to providing free accommodation, she said, the Sisters meet basic needs for food, safety, sleep, laundry services and hygiene products, as well as medical and spiritual support.

“We open our hearts,” she said. “We accompany them with spiritual and emotional support and help them to deepen their faith.”

The kindness and care she receives from the Sisters are like emotional balm for Blyznuik. She sees no end to the war and expects her stay in the monastery to be prolonged. But she has found a measure of peace, and even a glimmer of hope, as she settles into monastery life.

“It is comfortable and friendly. We try to help the Sisters with household chores because we really want to do something physically to relieve our minds from the news of the war,” she wrote.

She is comforted by praying with the Sisters. “They invite us to a joint Divine Liturgy. We all pray together for Ukraine, for our military, and for all Ukrainians forced to move.”

Being in the monastery has also restored some sense of normalcy.

“Spring 2023 will bring with it sowing and planting work in the garden, so we will gladly help the Sisters with this task,” she said. “Our generation grew up tending gardens with our parents, and this work will be like a sip of water for us from our anxiety and sorrow for Ukraine.”

Sr. Iryna is grateful to CNEWA and other benefactors in Canada.

“Thanks to (them), we were able to provide our guests with food, medicine, hygiene products, blankets, bedding and other necessities. We are sincerely grateful.”

The Sisters of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is another religious order of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church that lives and serves in Kharkiv, a city close to the Russian border. Besides offering temporary shelter to displaced persons, the Sisters often risk their lives visiting occupied villages and helping people to leave for relative safety.

Sr. Oleksia Pohranychna, Superior General of the local community, and Sr. Daria Panast serve in the parish and work among the poor “although their lives are in great danger from rocket fire,” Sr. Raphaela Hodiy said in an e-mail.

“Sisters from this congregation take food, drinking water and other necessities to occupied villages where people are preparing to leave,” Sr. Raphaela added.

She said Sr. Daria was wounded on one of these trips when the village of Liptsi came under heavy artillery fire. The congregation, too, received support from Canada for humanitarian relief. CNEWA provided financial help to purchase school supplies and catechism materials for children, said Sr. Raphaela.

Sr. Sophia Fuks, provincial Superior in Canada of the Ukrainian Sisters of St. Joseph in Saskatoon, visited her colleagues in Kharkiv and helped minister to war-affected people, she added.

Another community, the Sisters of the Order of St. Basil the Great, Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, plan to build a home for the elderly in one of their monasteries.

“During the war we received generous financial aid from CNEWA, and we plan to do this with their permission,” said Sr. Danyila Vynnik.

She said that from the beginning of the war in February 2022 to August of that year, about 200 people lived in their monasteries in various cities.

“Living in our monasteries, people got to know the Sisters, and life in the monastery. They often participate in the Divine Liturgies and prayers. Several families decided to baptize their children after living in the monasteries. Some also began to prepare for the holy mystery of penance and the Eucharist.”

“We thank God every day for all people of goodwill and big hearts,” Sr. Danyila said. “And in a special way at the Divine Liturgy, we give thanks for our benefactors and workers of CNEWA.

“At this time of war in Ukraine, we have the prayers and material support of many people. Thanks to this, we can help those who are suffering.

Susan Korah is an Ottawa-based journalist. This article was submitted by The Catholic Register.

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