“Explosions, gunshots, sirens, but above all a lot of confusion. In addition to being scared, people are very confused. Nobody knows what to do, feeling even unable to decide whether to escape and where to escape to. There is amazement, incredulity. War simply cannot be learned. You live only if and when you survive”. With these words, Father Daniel Botvina ofm, Minister Provincial of the Friars Minor in Ukraine, reported on the dramatic situation unfolding in the country. There are about 60 Franciscans in Ukraine, divided into 17 houses scattered all over the country, except Donbas. Franciscans are the largest and most widespread Catholic presence in the country. “I am constantly hearing from all the friars I know, from whom I receive different news according to the area in which they are located. In some cases they tell me of ongoing fighting, violence and destruction, but generally, the more you move west, the less dramatic the situation appears. But the advance of the occupiers proceeds inexorably. I was very worried about our friars who are in the city of Konotop, which is already entirely occupied by Russian troops. However, they assured me they are all fine. They left the Church open, and many civilians found assistance, support and comfort in our friaries”.
Father Romuald of the Konotop community reported that the attack felt like like a cyclone that involved less than 24 hours of hard fighting. “After conquering the city, calm returned. The Russians left the city, continuing their advance westward”. Indeed, he added, “Konotop has already returned to almost ordinary life, but people still have eyes full of fear”. Our Church remains, the Franciscan continues, to be filled with people. “It is not just a question of requests for help: they come above all to pray and to confess”.
Friars in Zytomyr, a city in which Benedictine nuns also reside, echoed a similar story. In Odessa, Fr. Daniel said, some families with children were staying with them, “simply because they are afraid to stay in their homes hearing the sound of fighters and missiles above their heads”. The friars are expecting many more people. “We will not send anyone away”, he stressed, adding that Fr. Massimo Fusarelli, Minister General of the Order of Friars Minor, had called him to “find out about our conditions and those of the refugees and to assure us of any help he can give us”.
How will the situation evolve? “It’s hard to say now. Just as it is difficult to say what we need and to show you how you can help us; it all happened so quickly”, Father Daniel continued. Last Wednesday evening, “people were still going to restaurants and the next morning we woke up with rockets and tanks in the street. We will probably need food and medicines in the next few days. But already we certainly need two things now. Firstly, we need your prayers, so much prayer in communion with ours, with us the friars and with our people. Secondly we need to feel the closeness of Europe”.
Father Daniel highlighted that Ukrainians share the values and culture of Europe. “We feel deeply European”, he said. “ We are Europeans, and there will be no occupation that will make us stop being so”.
By Roberto Cetera