Ukrainian refugees at Lviv's railway station Ukrainian refugees at Lviv's railway station 

Ukraine: “Please pray for us, that God may give us His peace!”

A Ukrainian volunteer working with the Order of Malta’s relief agency, Malteser International, in the western city of Lviv, speaks of humanitarian efforts underway to assist those who are fleeing, and asks for prayers.

By Linda Bordoni

Malteser International, the Order of Malta's relief agency, is on the ground in Ukraine, providing food and shelter to the people fleeing the war and to those hiding in bunkers and shelters as bombs continue to fall and Russian forces close in.

From the western city of Lviv, close to the border with Poland and Slovakia, Malteser volunteer Olga Bilichenko is doing her part to help provide basic necessities to the thousands of vulnerable people on the run.

She tells me the situation in Lviv still appears calm, as the fighting and bombing continue in the eastern, north-eastern, and southern parts of Ukraine – but Olga says the situation changes by the hour, and everyone feels threatened and afraid.

We understand the fears of the West

“We feel that we need military protection, air protection, but we understand that the West is afraid of the third World War…” Olga tells me with a broken voice, reiterating that she really understands the situation.

And, she continues, “I really appreciate, and the people here appreciate, the fact that the humanitarian help is coming. We are overwhelmed by the kindness, really … we thank you, really.”

Listen to the interview with Olga Bilichenko

Regarding the situation in Lviv, she says those who are leaving are mostly women with small children, with everyone else doing all they can to help in a very precarious and frightening situation.

With queues of cars from 10 to 50 km at the border crossings, she says most people in her area are going to Poland, but it is difficult to say whether as a final destination or in transit.

“All borders crossings are busy – Poland, Hungary, Slovakia… people are fleeing everywhere,” she says.

But she notes “those who are staying are very much determined to help.”

Olga says there are huge numbers of volunteers in the streets, many of them “bringing from their homes whatever they have: personal belongings to help the refugees, doing the maximum.”

Staff and volunteers of Malteser International provide assistance to refugees passing though Lviv
Staff and volunteers of Malteser International provide assistance to refugees passing though Lviv

Malteser International in Lviv

Malteser International, she says is very active. It has established a kitchen on one of the main streets and people are working 24/7 providing hot beverages, food, blankets.

“They have also opened a point at the railway station where people can receive psychological support, because it is really… it is impossible, to imagine the amount of stress those people are going through,” she says.

Reiterating that the situation is constantly changing, Olga says it is difficult to say whether all those who are fleeing will stay in western Ukraine. At the moment, she adds, most seem to be seeking safety across the border, but authorities expect huge numbers of internally displaced persons as well.

The fear

Everyone, Olga says, feels threatened and scared: ”Nobody knows whether western Ukraine is a safe place. The situation is very dynamic, changing by the day, and we hear the sirens in Lviv city as well, so nobody knows whether it is safe or not.”

She tells me that “Putin was mentioning he wants to ‘de-nationalize’ the country – which to us,” she explains, “means to exterminate us as a nation.”

“He mentions that the western part of Ukraine is the most ‘pro-nationalist’ – as he says – and that’s just because we speak the Ukrainian language,” Olga says.

Please pray for us

I asked her if there is an appeal she would like to make:

“Please pray for us. Ukraine is really in a very difficult situation, and the only thing we hope for is for common prayer and that God gives us a miracle, that God gives us peace, the real peace – not the politicians’ peace – but His peace.”

Part of the Malteser International team in Lviv
Part of the Malteser International team in Lviv
03 March 2022, 13:14