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Fr Mykhailo Stanchyshyn SJ is ministering in Kharkiv, one of the cities on the front line. In this short interview given on 7th June, he shares his experience of working in this war situation.  

Kharkiv is one of those cities, which experience the horrors of war the most. What is the situation in this city? 

When I arrived in Kharkiv, the city was shelled from morning to night. There remains not a single building in the northern part of the city that is still suitable for reconstruction.  Most of these destroyed buildings are simply blocks of flats. They were shelled for no reason at all - there was no army there, nor were they strategic facilities.  

I live in the central part of the city, about 7 kilometers from this destroyed district. Here the situation was and is better, although there were also explosions. One day my flat was also shelled. At that time I was lucky to have survived. On that day a minivan was standing in front of my window - if it had not been for it I would not be speaking with you today. The missile that came from behind that car exploded. All the windows in the tower were shattered by the explosion: only the windows on the ground floor and two floors survived - including the windows in the flat where I lived, thanks to that minivan which blocked them from the blast. The bus itself was torn apart by the explosion. 

Since mid-May the situation has been much calmer. However, there are still explosions every day and people are dying. Recently, people who had spent the last three months in the metro have been evacuated. In addition, many people are now returning to Kharkiv. In the city itself, buses have also started running and street lighting has been put in place. Anyway, since the beginning of the war, it surprises me that the city is clean and well-kept. As soon as a bomb arrives and destroys an edifice, people gather and clean the streets, so that only the destroyed building remains. The flowerbeds are full of flowers, in the parks the trees are trimmed... This is all an expression of the struggle for life of the people of Kharkiv. 

How does your ministry in Kharkiv look like? And how are you experiencing this difficult time? 

I am involved in the humanitarian aid centre, which was opened at the beginning of the war by the Bishop of Kharkiv Vasyl Tuchapets. The centre operates at St. Nicholas Cathedral. It distributes food, medicines, chemicals, clothes, etc. The centre was open three days a week until the beginning of June. Up to 1,500 people came for help each day it was opened. During the Easter we managed to distribute two thousand aid packages. Currently, the centre is open once a week, as fewer product transports have been reaching us recently. For this reason, we have decided to facilitate transport and have opened a Humanitarian Aid Headquarters in the village of Chyshky near Lviv. In this way, aid from the west for Kharkiv can be distributed to Lviv, while we by ourselves organize transport within Ukraine. However, as it is becoming increasingly difficult to access fuel and transport costs a lot, we are now trying to focus on raising funds so that we can buy products locally. 

In addition to humanitarian aid, I am also involved in pastoral work. It is important to note that in the last three months more people have started to attend the local parish. Many people are asking for their children to be baptised. In the last month, the parish has also been involved in organizing activities for children, since kindergartens and schools are closed. We run such classes twice a week. Conferences for adults are also held at the same time. We also celebrate mass regularly, and surprisingly, new people come every day. 

I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve in Kharkiv. I am grateful that through my ministry I can meet the Lord in so many people, in their lives, in their tears of joy and often in great fear, pain and sorrow. I must say that looking at the recent time I see that the Lord God has greater possibilities and greater plans than my limited thinking. 

 Mykhailo Stanchyshyn SJ - Jesuit, doctor of theology. He studied at the Catholic University of Lublin, the University of Geneva and the University of Munich (PhD). He specializes in giving Ignatian retreats and in training spiritual directors. He founded communities for mothers with many children in western Ukraine. He currently works in Kharkiv.

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