Caritas volunteers in Ukraine (Vatican Media) Caritas volunteers in Ukraine (Vatican Media) 

Caritas: Long-term support needed to help Ukrainians restart their lives

Alistair Dutton, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis, wraps up a two-day visit to Ukraine, and highlights the need to change the assistance offered by the Church's humanitarian outfit as the war takes a dramatic psychological toll on people.

By Linda Bordoni and Edoardo Giribaldi

“Living in a time of war is becoming a matter of daily life for people in Ukraine. And so the nature of the assistance is starting to shift somewhat.”

Alistair Dutton, Secretary General Caritas Internationalis, is about to conclude his visit to Ukraine, where he has been meeting with representatives of Caritas Ukraine and Caritas Spes to bring support and appreciation for their work.

Listen to the interview with Alistair Dutton

Serving millions of people

Speaking from a hotel about half an hour south of Kyiv where he is meeting with Caritas leadership and staff in the country, Dutton explained the partnership between the two organizations (Caritas Ukraine is the Greek Catholic Caritas member for Ukraine and Caritas Spes is the Roman Catholic), and highlighted his wish to express solidarity, closeness and gratitude to all the partners and volunteers “for all that they've done since the war began, which really is incredible.”

Since the start of the conflict, dated February 24, 2022, the two organizations have served over 3 million people, increasing “the scale and reach of their programs dramatically to respond to the situation in the country and the situation of their people.”

Over this period, the assistance was focused on providing “an initial response to people as they fled the areas where the fighting has been most intense.”

Alistair Dutton with representatives of the different Caritas organizations in Ukraine and withArchbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk
Alistair Dutton with representatives of the different Caritas organizations in Ukraine and withArchbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk

Caritas, the Secretary-General continued, has also been helping “people either to settle in other cities around the country and to leave Ukraine and move to safe third countries” such as Poland or other surrounding countries and elsewhere in Europe.

“But now that we're about 18 months into the war, unfortunately, war is becoming more structurally present.”

Shifting the nature of support

According to Dutton, the conflict “isn't changing anywhere near as rapidly as it was in the first days. And living in a time of war is becoming a matter of daily life for people in Ukraine. And so the nature of the assistance is starting to shift somewhat.”

Concretely, this means helping people whose “houses are reparable to repair them so that they can live at home,” and this can mean “replacing windows or doors or small repairs to walls or roofs,” where possible.

It is also essential for Ukrainian people, he said, recalling Pope Francis’ appeal, to “not get used to war.”

“We must help people think about, rather than what they receive day in and day out, how to provide for their families. How they can restart their work and earn an income and provide for their families themselves.”

One of the biggest fears regards the economy, and how it may stagnate. That’s why, Dutton explained, it is crucial to support people in becoming “economically active” and gain an independence that would give them the opportunity “to look after their families again, so they're not so reliant on the more hand-to-mouth food assistance or other assistance that we've been providing.”

Tiredness and exhaustion

Concerning the impressions and morale of Ukrainian, Dutton noted a sense of tiredness and exhaustion, as the war “takes a psychological toll” on people.

Ukrainian couple receives a Caritas package
Ukrainian couple receives a Caritas package

In terms of attitude toward reconstruction, the Caritas Internationalis’ Secretary-General admitted that “we aren't anywhere near really thinking about reconstruction. That will be something that will largely happen after we've achieved peace and people can start to think about much longer-term futures for themselves.”

Long-term interventions

As his visit to Ukraine is coming to an end, Dutton emphasized the “sheer strength, resilience, and hope of both of the Caritas members who are present in the country and all their staff.”

“As I say, the programs now are looking at slightly longer-term activities, how to help people restart lives in so far as possible, but obviously they constantly have to hold that intention with the fact that they are under attack from Russia, and particularly in the East.”

Other implementations to the assistance provided by Caritas will regard the development of better connections between “Caritas members throughout the world so that we, as Caritas Internationalis, and the Caritas members in all of the countries, can genuinely help them build a stronger, bigger and better response for the good of all the people that they serve.”

Three appeals

Dutton concluded with three appeals, at different levels.

The first was an exhortation to pray “for peace and reconciliation” in Ukraine. “War, as Pope Francis so often says, is always a failure. And peace is ultimately the answer, and that will be what will allow people to get back to normal.”

Secondly, Dutton underlined how the international community must continue to endlessly work for justice and peace. “And that, in this context, this must mean that the Ukrainian people are not overrun, but at the same time, that peace can be re-established within their country.”

Finally, he asked all the readers and listeners to support the “Caritas family in Ukraine: It will be needed for a very long time to come, and maintaining the funding for that is going to be one of our biggest challenges.”

For more information on Caritas projects and to donate go to the Caritas Internationalis webpage.

Caritas staff and volunteers in Ukraine
Caritas staff and volunteers in Ukraine

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27 July 2023, 15:15