The mission to restore children's smiles The mission to restore children's smiles  #SistersProject

Sr. Viktoriya’ mission to restore the smiles of Ukrainian children

Sr. Viktoriya Andrushchyshyna rescues childhoods destroyed by war. She distributes drops of kindness in frontier areas, where her angels of joy travel to cities and villages that were liberated from Russian occupation. Quoting Pope Francis on the fact that Ukrainian children no longer smile, she thinks of herself as the “nun who restores smiles.”

By Beata Zajączkowska

“I am only afraid of one thing, of having to bury one of the children whom we look after”, says Sr. Viktoriya. Ever since the very beginning of  the Russian aggression in Ukraine, she began to find safe shelters for mothers with small children and for pregnant women.

The shelter inside the station and the angels of joy

“During the first week of  bombings, we were in the basement, afraid, and I began to wonder how I could help our children”, she recounts.  She then went to the train station where refugees from eastern Ukraine were taking refuge. A pregnant woman she met there by chance told her that she had prepared a room where mothers with children could be safe.

She began to take care of the children of displaced people who had taken shelter in Vinnytsia. She rounded up a group of volunteers and began to organize games.

“I wanted to make the children come out of the sadness in which they were trapped”, she says, underlining that wars force children into a regime that is difficult to withstand: they cannot go to school or even outside to play. In order to make the project, which was beginning to take shape, official, the Sister joined Christian Emergency Service, which was established in Kiev to help people after the outbreak of war in 2014. Within it, she created a group to help the children called “The Angels of Joy”.

Volunteers organize a new angelic adventure
Volunteers organize a new angelic adventure

Angelic vocation

The name is not random. Sr. Viktoriya belongs to  the Congregation of Sisters of the Angels, founded in 1889 when the Church was harshly persecuted by the Russian czar.

She met them thanks to an aunt on her mother’s side: “When my aunt would come to visit us, she always gave an excellent witness, and I decided to follow in her footsteps”. She professed her first vows in 2005 and studied pedagogy which gave her life a new direction.

“Working with children is my passion. It is a task that demands great responsibility. After all, the parents are entrusting us with their joys, confident in the knowledge that they will be safe and  instructed according to the loftiest values”, she said.

She confesses that she had had good practice of this in her home, where she had looked after her four younger siblings. One of her sisters followed in her footsteps and joined the Sisters of the Angels.

Angelic adventures in Ukraine
Angelic adventures in Ukraine

The Sister who restores smiles

Sr. Viktoriya currently works in Zhytomyr but she constantly travels to the areas liberated from the Russians,  with her angels of joy.  Assistance is mainly aimed at displaced children from families in difficulty, whose fathers  died in the war. Between 50 and 70 children participate in  each “Angelic Adventures” projects.

“We arrive early, decorate the room with balloons, bring a cotton candy machine and hot dogs and then the games begin”, she tells us. Each child receives a halo. The sisters and volunteers talk to the young ones about angels and their mission, highlighting that each of us can be an angel to another. When there are children celebrating their birthdays, cake is also provided during playtime. “We give them back a semblance of normality, and think of the little things the parents no longer have the strength to take notice of.”

She confesses that her heart breaks when the children receive gifts without the slightest emotion on their faces, without a smile. “It takes a lot of time and patience for the sadness to be appeased”, she explains.

She recalls the tears of the mothers who see their children smile again, which is the greatest reward for the angels of joy. Among the volunteers, there are mothers and fathers who bring their own children to the angelic adventures,. “It is an extremely edifying witness to see their parents serve the needy”, Sr. Viktoriya adds.

Angels of joy with aid
Angels of joy with aid

The Angels need support

Within the mission, families receive packages with food aid and personal hygiene products. “We live by Divine Providence”, explains Sr. Viktoriya, who often goes to the market to beg the sellers for necessary products.

Despite the difficult situation, there is great solidarity. When there is no money left, miracles occur. She finds money in used books or an unexpected bank transfer appears on her account. She organizes film screenings with popcorn  for the youngest children living in the villages along the border.

“Children are our future but they are the ones to suffer the most in this war. We have to save their childhood”, Sr. Vitoriya says. We have never had to cancel a delivery due to economic reasons. “God helps, he sends good angels, thanks to whom we can invest in the children”, she adds.

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17 May 2024, 18:46