Together with Natasha and Oksana, volunteers on a mission in Kiev, we have entered into crowded metro. We were surprised by the strong smell of urine. A homeless person was standing beside me, leaning on the metro doors.
Oksana spoke to homeless because she wanted to tell him where to get some help. We started a conversation. The beggar told us that a few years ago he fought in Afghanistan, and after returning to Ukraine he could not get a job and afford a decent stay. It was all quiet on the Metro, people next to us were listening to our conversation.
In the middle of his story, a younger man from the crowd spoke out in anger:
‘Listen! First go home and clean yourself, then come back and speak.’
Surprised, we looked at the angry passenger. A homeless man was offended and started to defend himself. Obviously his words provoked even more anger with the younger man.
In the meantime metro has stopped at the next station and doors behind us opened up. A younger man has pushed forcibly towards us and kicked the beggar in the stomach who helplessly fell from a train and was now lying on the station floor.
None of the passengers stepped out to help him. Silva and I jumped off the Metro and motioned Oksana and Natasha to come and help. The door closed and the metro drove on.
I assisted the homeless on his feet, while he was crying in front of us: ‘Why was this necessary? I only beg for food. Why? Why?’
Saddened and worried
This happened the day after we flew from Rome to Kiev on a mission, which serve the Congregation of the Mission and the Sisters of Mary.
There was a significant change in temperature between Italy and Ukraine, but the cold was not what we were most surprised of. While we walked from the airport to the mission, we observed the city and the people on the streets.
Buildings and blocks of flats have remained just the way we have been accustomed to in Slovenia, thirty years ago, in the times of Yugoslavia. The faces of people passers are serious, grim and sad.
On the streets there were many soldiers, young boys who are leaving their homeland for the war on the eastern part of Ukraine, in the Donetsk and Lugansk, to defend the border against the Russian military forces.
Up or down – future seems uncertain
If in Italy, France and Spain we were used to the hustle and bustle of the subway, the Kiev metro, although full of people, was unusually quiet.
Escalators lead passengers 30 meters deep underground, sharply and quickly.
Thoughtful and anxious Ukrainians every day drive up and down these escalators to their jobs, homes, errands, into the future, which at this time still seems very uncertain.
Mission of Sisters of Mary
Mary’s Sister missionaries are located a kilometer away from the main train station. At halfway there Sister Marta Meško came to greet us.
We entered the missionary house, same place as Lazarists home is located, in the quieter neighborhood of Kiev, just a few meters away from the heavily guarded embassy of Saudi Arabia.
There we met two Sisters of Mary, a Slovenian Barbara Peterlin and Vasilinka, an Ukrainian. Sisters are quietly and dedicatedly serving the poorest people in Ukraine; the homeless, patients and impoverished, ignored, marginalized, all those which other people would usually ignore.
Social face of Ukraine
Sisters served us with coffee, hot tea and delicious cakes. But they served us with traumatic stories as well, stories that reveal the soul of this burdened country.
Homeless are a cancer wound of Ukraine. As Sister Marta says, the homeless on the streets show the state’s identity and the attitude towards them is a true indication of state of mind in the society. Being homeless in Ukraine means to be without any possibility of a decent life, unless supported by the people who believe in the dignity of every human life, regardless of class, status and wealth.
Work with homeless in Kiev hospital
The Sisters spend most of the time in the hospital, where they deliver care and personal hygiene for the people from the streets. It is difficult to answer the question why these people are not assisted by the hospital staff. Perhaps because they cost money and time, perhaps because there is not enough qualified staff, but most likely because they simply do not care about them.
Either way, hospital takes care of people who are able to pay health care for themselves. Antiquated hospital complex near the mission is a place of some few neglected rooms with rickety beds serving the people from the street.
After surgery or serious intervention by physicians, which are otherwise carried out on behalf of the state budget, beggars from streets are moved into ‘their rooms’, where they are left to the mercy of volunteers.
When time is up
Sisters Marta and Barbara were telling us about a recent event with Vladimir, who was lying paralyzed in the room for the homeless at the end of the section.
It is not clear why exactly he came to the hospital, but it was obvious that he needed care and treatment. He was lying in a dirty bed, soaked from urine and sweat. At one of their regular visits, Sisters washed him and cared for him. He was of course immensely grateful.
Back to street
But after a while, a volunteer called sisters and asked in amazement why Vladimir was lying on the street. As it turned out, the staff in the hospital suddenly decided that it was time for his ‘treatment’ to be completed. So they drove him into the city and released him somewhere on the street. When the Sisters faced a medical staff with this event, their tentative argue was that Vladimir left alone. They said he ran away.
Can you imagine an immobile man without a home, how he flees from the hospital in the middle of winter just to lay down on the cold floor of bustling streets of Kiev?
‘Nothing new here,’ Sister Marta bitterly smiled. ‘Just another episode of Ukrainian daily life.’
Decent burial of the deceased is a work of mercy
The Sisters told me about how hospitals comply with the deceased homeless. Usually, in such case, bodies are disposed at the ‘graveyard’ for the homeless once every three months. Until then, they lie in the morgue, sometimes several months long, as long as it takes to get a sufficient number of them from several Kiev institutions.Shocking stories from Ukraine Click To Tweet
Recently, they discovered that these bodies are buried in the town of Brovary. Therefore, the deacon Jan, a Lazarist, and some volunteers and friends of the mission, together visited this ‘cemetery’ and passed a Catholic rite for all the people who rest in this place.
Weeds over graves of homeless
Why the word ‘cemetery’ in inverted commas? In fact, it is not a cemetery, as it is usually imagined by us. Homeless people are buried in a field outside the city. Excavators dig a long trench, where dead bodies are laid next to each other, and buried afterwards.
Sisters found a ‘fresh’ cemetery of people buried in the past few months. Locations of other homeless people who are already in rest for years here are overgrown with tall weeds, abandoned and forgotten.
We rolled up our sleeves
Sister Marta took care of our apartment. Our overnight stay is in a large Dominicans building at the Institute of Theology of Thomas Aquinas. In addition to the lecture rooms, enclosure, kitchen and halls, there are many guest rooms available.
Our work is beautiful, lively and full of opportunities to learn about real social image of today’s Ukraine. Together with the Sisters we attend the homeless in the hospital, where we help with care, washing and personal hygiene. We could directly experience the conditions with which ill, disabled or injured people from the street are faced with. Images and scenes that will stay forever in our minds!
Sisters Barbara and Vasilinka were home visiting an elderly lady Gala, who suffered a stroke and is stuck already a fortnight in bed and thus completely dependent on the help of our missionaries and staff from Caritas.
She lives together with her son and his girl, but he is not of much help to his mother. More of a burden we could say. A modest social support that Gala receives from the state, is entirely consumed on alcohol and entertainment with a girlfriend and friends in her apartment.
When we entered the room, the scene was sufficiently eloquent. Loose plaster on the walls, dusty shelves and cigarette smoke. While we were washing Mrs. Gala, the son and his girlfriend sat in the kitchen drinking coffee, smoking and talking quietly. That day a lady had no bruises or blood traces, but Sisters sometimes notice that as well.
Night center for homeless
The missionaries are very proud of the new shelter for homeless people, near the main railway station Vokzalna.
The Depaul organization provides space to the people of the streets at night, so that they may be greeted by a warm morning in order to avoid a possible death due to hypothermia, which is still very common sight in Ukraine.
Price for charity is high
Depaul is paying extremely high price for this charity. Monthly rental for space, which comprises 200 m2, amounted to € 1,000! For a country where the worker’s normal wage is € 200 and where unemployment exceeds 20 percent, it is a very large sum. When asked why prices are so high, Marta just shrugged: “It’s just Kiev. Everybody wants to save their skin, so the prices are not spared to anyone.“
How can Operando help?
We explained to Sisters that one of the purposes of our service is raising funds for charitable projects, where the money is most needed. When we asked them for a purpose, which we could dedicate donations to, their answer was immediately clear.
This night center for homeless saves lives – literally. Any monetary help would come to us extremely handy. The situation in Kiev is demanding and difficult, numbers of homeless are higher than ever and help is constantly decreasing. We need people and we need money to help them get a more decent and brighter life.
In the following article I will write more about our work in the mission and life of the locals. But for now, let me finish with this Sister’s call and request. We opened up a new ‘Cause account’ in which we are raising funds for homeless night center.
If you want to join us in this charity campaign, you are cordially invited, of course. You can make a donation on the current account below or via our website here.
Operando, društvo za medsebojno pomoč in spodbujanje dobrodelnosti
Kropa 149, SI-4245 Kropa, Slovenia
IBAN Bank account: SI56 0510 0801 4262 678