Gena has struggled with alcohol for many years. Although he tried and was looking for different ways to break free from the grip of addiction, a situation in Lugansk, where he lived, did not offer many alternatives. Despair, misery and war, of course, all leave their trails – often fatal.
Against own people
Together with his son they lived in the house, he did not want to tell us anything about his wife. After the revolution, when the war in Lugansk began, the son joined the Ukrainian army.
Gena stayed at home, but was thus often the target of violent pro-Russian fighters. He rejected their calls to join the ranks against the Ukrainians, against his own people therefore. His penalty for example has been to dig a trench in front of his house – from there the pro-Russians could securely shot at the Ukrainian defense.
Nothing worse for a parent
From the Lugansk, there are daily reports of new victims of young Ukrainian soldiers. One day in 2014 Gena also received a tragic news of the death of his son. What could possibly be worse for a parent than to bury his own child?
Life has crashed him
But no end to tragedies. Same year, pro-Russian grenade destroyed his house and he had to flee. Relatives donated him some money, it was all they could do. His situation was extreme, as if everything in this world would conspired against him.
Searching for a way out
But Gena knew one thing. If he was to survive, he would have to challenge his alcohol addiction. He desperately traveled all over Ukraine and joined certain aid centers for drug and alcohol addicts.
But many of these ‘rehabilitation units’ did not accept drug addicts in order to enable them a high-quality treatment, but because they needed cost-free labor for variety of tasks.
These people therefore often end up in exploitative labor relations, which, except providing a roof over their head and some food, cannot provide them a decent living, let alone offer support in coping with addiction.
Thus, Gena came to Odessa eight months ago, where he lived as homeless on the street. He had worked occasionally as a security guard, but a drink has always pushed him back to the ground.
With other homeless people he was visiting a food dispensing point, where volunteers from the Depaul organization operate regularly (more about that later).
Back then, he got a severe feet infection and he could barely walk. His health condition was serious, so Maxim from Depaul took him to the hospital, where antibiotics cured the infection and returned him some physical strength…
Arriving to Odessa
After spending two weeks in Kiev, we, together with p. Vitaliy, drove to Odessa, a large port city in the south of Ukraine. After six hours of driving we were tired, but we were looking forward to new experiences and new people that God sends us on our way. Father Vitaliy is one of them.
Father Vitaliy Novak
Young, ambitious, entrepreneurial and full of energy. Born over the Carpathian mountains, but found his place and mission in Odessa, a city that cries for help of people who could dedicate their live to sacrifice it for the others. He is a Greek-Catholic and a member of the Missionary society of the Lazarists. Through his work and ambitious projects I have mentioned earlier, he has proved that the sacrifice and dedication can do much good.
In addition to having many responsibilities, he works as a chair of Depaul in Ukraine. Depaul is otherwise a member of the Vincentian Family, a network of numerous charities and religious congregations, whose common denominator is the charisma of St. Vincent de Paul.
Depaul, which is headquartered in London, is present in England, Ireland, Slovakia, Ukraine, France and the United States. Each year it helps more than 20,000 people. Its main mission are projects aimed at homeless.
One can read from their official website as follows:
Our Mission is to end homelessness and change the lives of those affected by it.
In Kiev we met Ian Brady, one of the leading members of the organization, just as he was attending a meeting of members of Depaul Ukraine. We presented him with our Operando Society and he invited us to Ireland, where Depaul has a strong presence and has been developing for fourteen years already.
Addiction treatment center
When p. Vitaly arrived to Odessa, he soon recognized the need for a rehabilitation center for drug and alcohol addicts.
Vodka, which is cheap enough in Ukraine, destroys families and lives. People get intoxicated because they see no future and they want to escape because they lose all hope.
In Kiev we’ve seen a lot of young people on the streets, staggering with bottles in their hands or sitting in front of stores or railway station.
There are treatment centers available, however the quality ones are usually expensive and most of them can not afford it.
Searching for solutions
‘What kind of a center suits the Ukrainians best?‘ p. Vitalij often asked himself. He decided to take some time to travel to European countries, where he could discover a variety of options and examples that might be most appropriate for the mission in Odessa.
In Dialogo community
He found the answer in Italy, after visiting the In Dialogo community (in the dialogue). They accept people who have problems with addictions and help them discover their own gifts in authentic human relations and responsible work, which in itself raises their self-esteem and self-image.
The project was enthusiastically supported by the then provincial of the Lazarists, p. Tomaž Mavrič (already wrote about him here). Male community in Ukraine went live in December 2012, a feminine one in April 2015, both on the outskirts of Odessa.
Only when reaching the bottom, one can bounce back
With p. Vitaliy we visited both communities. We met Mr. Gena in the male community. How did he get there? Immediately after Maxim left Gena in the hospital, he called p. Vitaliy and told him about a man who has a serious problem with alcohol and a strong desire to do something about it.
Vitaliy paid him visits in the hospital and regularly discussed the possibility of admitting him to a rehabilitation center, which has just launched. But Gena has not been determined yet. Something inside him was telling him that he can tackle the problem by himself. When he was discharged from the hospital, he returned to his previous living – split between alcohol and occasional work – until he reached the bottom.Only when reaching the bottom, one can bounce back. Click To Tweet
He came to the food distribution point and wanted to talk with p. Vitaliy. Vitaliy got there and was shocked. Gena stood before him, dirty, vomited, slumped in and completely weak. Vitaliy admitted that at that moment he doubted that Gena can once again lead a normal life.
‘I only saw the exterior,’ says Vitaliy. ‘Purely human, I could not see beyond this fact.’
But Gena was a fighter. What made him stand back on his feet so soon, was his strong desire for freedom, which never really died inside him. And most importantly, he finally admitted that he alone could not cope with alcohol. He needed help!
He was telling us his life story during a transfer to a health-care clinic, where he could get some medicine.
It has been a month for Gena to live in the community and it seems that his life is finally on the right track. God works!
Sisters of Mary
In the same street as house of Lazarists (currently populated by p. Vitaliy only, but will soon be joined by others), dwells a community of three Sisters of Mary (s. Marta, s. Maria and. s. Magdalena). They are part of the Vincentian family and thus related to the Congregation of the Mission.From being chained by addiction to complete freedom Click To Tweet
While p. Vitaliy is supervising, organizing and planning everything necessary for the functioning of both houses for addicts, the sisters drive an hour with their own customized ‘medical van’ to the streets of Odessa. They take care of medical supply for people from the street (two of them are trained nurses). One of the sisters always visits a daily homeless shelter, where homeless can wash themselves and dress in clean, warm clothing.
Soup deliverer and a hairdresser
We joined the crew recently. Silva, along with DePaul volunteers distributed food at different points in Odessa and I went to the shelter with sister Mary, again turning myself into a hairdresser 🙂 – using a shaving machine set ‘to zero’.
The atmosphere was lively and the joy of people, after looking in the mirror seeing themselves showered, washed, shaved and decorated, always touches me.
If we all take it for granted, believe me, there are many that can only wish that!
Thank you for your help!
Both Silva and me are very grateful for your positive feedback on our charity campaign to collect donations for the night shelter for the homeless in Kiev. We decided to extend the campaign until the end of December, so we could collect some more funds for the cause.
Holidays approaching. A time when we will be opening gifts in our warm appartments, rejoice with friends and give thanks for all that we have been donated in life. And rightly so. There are many reasons to feel joy and gratitude!
Joy to the world
Together with Silva, we wish at least some of this joy could be felt by people from the street, those without a roof over their head, whose main concern is not gifts and sweets on the tables, but warm shelter (at least for a coming night), so that they can survive another cold winter in the beautiful and rich Europe.
Help us their wish to come true! Click here and donate a little something for the cause.
Operando – God is working!