People wait to board buses near the Polish city of Przemysl People wait to board buses near the Polish city of Przemysl  (AFP or licensors)

Ukraine: A Jesuit's appeal for unity and reconciliation

Jesuit Father Vitaliy Osmolovskyy, who works in Poland to welcome and support Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war, calls for reconciliation and unity in the face of the division caused by the ongoing conflict.

By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ

The war in Ukraine has triggered a widening refugee crisis, with an estimated 2 million people, and possibly more, fleeing their homes in search of safety in neighbouring countries.

With major interruptions to supply lines, ports blocked and road transportation made treacherous by bombings, humanitarian aid is proving vital for the very survival of the people involved.

Among the volunteers, agencies and other aid organizations coordinating aid efforts is Fr. Vitaliy Osmolovskyy, a Jesuit from Ukraine who, in collaboration with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), is on the ground to welcome the thousands of Ukrainians who have made their way across the border into Poland.

Solidarity amid the crisis

The refugee crisis, Fr. Osmolovskyy says, has driven about 150,000 Ukrainians into Poland. The majority of them choose to remain in Poland, but others continue their journeys to other European countries.

Fr. Osmolovskyy describes the welcome the refugees have received so far as being very warm, noting that within the past days, the country has opened its doors to almost one million refugees.

“The people are very generous, they are very helpful…We have a lot of support from the people everywhere, and they trying to share their goods…and what they have,” he says.

Listen to our interview with Fr. Vitaliy Osmolovskyy SJ

Aiding Ukrainian refugees on the move

Fr. Osmolovskyy explains that a part of his work with the Ukrainian refugees includes coordinating the distribution of supplies and making arrangements for shelter for them in Jesuit houses, parishes and apostolates in Poland.

Most of the refugees, he says, are in need of concrete help – funds, basic necessities, medical, psychological support and otherwise. However, efforts are also being made to secure “long-term help” for people fleeing the fighting.

One instance of this, he says, involves securing scholarships for potential students among the Ukrainian refugees who might want to stay in Poland. In fact, he notes, the Rector of one institution recently offered to accept four students.

Volunteers hand out food to Ukrainian war refugees in Poland
Volunteers hand out food to Ukrainian war refugees in Poland

Unity, not division

The war in Ukraine has been escalating in the past two weeks after Russia launched a wide-ranging military assault on 24 February, after building up troops on the country's border. The fighting has caused massive devastation, killed many people and is destined to have dramatic far reaching consequences.

Fr. Osmolovskyy joins the growing chorus of voices calling for dialogue and an end to the conflict, appealing that we “concentrate on what unites us rather than what divides us.”

He stresses the importance of preparing society for the process of reconciliation which, he notes, will help heal the wounds that are being caused by the fighting.

In this regard, he recalls his days of Jesuit formation in Eastern Africa where he had occasion to meet with people who had suffered during the genocide in Rwanda, yet have engaged in the process of reconciliation.

In spite of the difficulties, he says, “We can do many good things through reconciliation and help people heal their wounds.”

09 March 2022, 09:00