Mother and child share a tender moment while in refuge at a facility supported by JRS.
Working together to keep hope alive
The international armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine has displaced millions of people, constituting the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since the Second World War.
Since the conflict began, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has been on the frontlines of humanitarian response, working with those who have been forced to flee their homes in Ukraine. After an in-depth needs assessment, JRS Europe presented the coordinated unified response from the Society of Jesus to the crisis: The One Proposal.
Through this initiative, JRS and Xavier Network, which coordinate the global response from the Society of Jesus, will accompany, serve, and advocate for more than 73,000 refugees fleeing conflict in Ukraine over the course of three years. This response is coordinated by JRS Europe and implemented jointly with 23 JRS Country Offices, the Society of Jesus in Europe, the Xavier Network, local civil society, and NGOs.
In the year that has passed since the start of this coordinated response, together we have accompanied and served more than 54.000 people in 14 countries with emergency aid, shelter, psychosocial support, education, and integration, among other services. The ongoing response has also helped keep hope alive in the midst of the crisis. Below, you will find a few examples of what that hope looks like for each person.
Read more about the response and the stories of the people accompanied at https://jrseurope.org/en/project/the-one-proposal/
Yevheniia hopes to see Odessa with a peaceful sky.
Hope to get back to one's hometown
Yevheniia lived with her mother in Odessa, a city in southern Ukraine facing the Black Sea and known for its 19th century architecture including the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre and the monumental Potemkin Stairs. As soon as the war broke out, they decided to flee to neighboring Moldova.
Moldova is less than 70 km away from Odessa. However, the route towards it was full of families just like hers who were desperately trying to escape the violence that the war had brought to their homes. “We were two families in a five-seat car. When there is no traffic, the trip to Moldova takes around two hours. That day, however, it took 27 hours for us to get to Moldova because the line was extremely slow," Yevheniia recalls. While the trip was long, Yevheniia said, “at least we managed to come here."
Yevheniia and her mother have been in Moldova since February 25, 2022. They live together with three other families in a house provided by CONCORDIA, which converted the place into a home after the war in Ukraine started. CONCORDIA is offering Ukrainian refugees and forcibly displaced people a place to stay as long as needed, warm meals, counselling, and psychosocial support.
Yevheniia longs for her hometown. She recalls with melancholy the Odessa National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet and the Statue of the Duc de Richelieu. But while the current situation is bleak, she maintains hope. “Russians are bombing Odessa little by little, but I hope that they will not destroy the architecture, we have so many monuments there… I hope we will soon go back to our Odessa, and we will have a peaceful sky over our heads.”
Tetiana hopes to recover her professional life.
Hope to get back one's profession
Before the war, Tetiana worked as a dentist in Kharkiv, a city in the north-east of Ukraine less than 50 km away from the Russian border. War came fast to her hometown and for the first few days she and her daughter took refuge in a basement. Not long after, she decided it was time for them to flee.
“On March 3, my daughter and I fled Kharkiv as it was extremely difficult and [nerve-wracking] to live in the basement. We got on an overcrowded train to Lviv," she said. "The train was really crammed with people; so many that you could hardly get to the bathroom. But we didn’t care about how we had to travel. We only wanted to escape the shelling." Thankfully, she says, they were welcomed with open arms by their Polish neighbours. “When we finally got to the border, we didn’t even expect to cross it so quickly and be treated so friendly”.
Tetiana and her daughter now live with her sister and her family, who also had to flee Kharkiv, in Nowy Sącz, Poland. Fortunately, they have experienced the same hospitality she had experienced at the Polish border. “In Poland, I have received lots of help from different organizations, which I am grateful for from the bottom of my heart. It has given me a chance to stay on firm ground," she says. A bit more settled right now, Tetiana is starting to plan her next steps, and central to that is recovering her professional life as a dentist. “I have already received the proof for the recognition of my diploma here and now I am employed at one of the dental clinics. I have to work under supervision for three months though, but in three months I will be entitled to work independently and for that, I need to learn the language. Thanks to JRS I am now attending Polish courses," she says. Soon Tetiana will be able to work as an independent dentist in Nowy Sącz, where she plans to stay.
Yrina hopes to go home and resume her job as a swimming coach in a sports club.
Yrina was living in Odessa before the war began, and she worked as a swimming coach in a sports club.
“In the early days of the war, we were overcome by panic and fear, we didn’t know what to do next," she recalls. No one knew where it would have been safe to live or where they would get money to buy food.
Yrina and her kids had to wait at the border to enter Romania, and when they arrived, they had to live in an apartment with eight other people. They did not have a job, and they wanted to go back home “But we believed that everything would work out, that we would find kind and helpful people.”
They registered to the JRS program, and received help with housing and vouchers, as well as language courses and educational activities for their children. “With the help of JRS, life is getting better," she says.
Yrina hopes the war will be over soon, and she can’t wait to be back home. Until then, she will stay in Romania. “We don’t even think about going to other countries, I like everything here. But, of course, I really want to go home.”
Maria hopes to find a job in her profession.
Before the war began, Maria and her three daughters had a happy life in Odessa. She worked as a dentist in a good school, her younger children attended the Montessori Kindergarten, and her eldest daughter attended the Primorsky Lyceum. When alarms and explosions became more frequent in Odessa, her children began to panic and cry. Her eldest child began to have panic attacks, and the young ones stopped sleeping at night. In early March, she decided to leave, thinking that in a couple of weeks the war would be over, and they would go back to their old life.
Once they got to Bucharest, they received support from JRS Romania, which provided them with financial support in the form of coupons, compensation or money for an apartment, and Carrefour (grocery) cards. “I really hope to find a job here in my specialty (dentistry). We are very warm and comfortable in Bucharest. We’re not going anywhere else," she says.
The family also had the opportunity to attend numerous courses and master classes, Maria goes to Romanian language courses, and her children attend master classes in needlework and chess. There is a children’s room, where it is possible to leave the children during the course. They also went to Constantia for an excursion. “You help us to live on with the belief that everything will be fine, that we are not alone," she says. JRS Romania helps her and many other Ukrainian refugees keep their hope alive.
Ira hopes to go to medical school.
Hope to build a future
Ira has wanted to be a doctor for as long as she can remember. This year, she was supposed to enroll in the medical institute in Kyiv, but after the war broke out, everything changed. “It´s just that, when that will happen now is a mystery," says Ira.
When the war began, Ira and her family went to their summer cabin outside of Kyiv. “We thought things would be safe because we thought they´d attack the city, Kyiv. But a couple of days later, they cut off the power in our cabin. And it turned out that Kyiv was surrounded on all sides and we ended up right in the middle of it all," she says. They had no power for five days, they stayed lying on the floor because there were artillery shells flying over their house. A tank was parked next to their house. Ira was scared.
Five days later, her family decided that they couldn´t stay at the cabin. They got ready as fast as they could, and took off in their car, heading towards the Zhitomorsky highway. There were shards of glass everywhere and the road was completely destroyed. They ended up driving on a section of the road not controlled by Ukraine, but by Russian troops. “At that moment, my Dad said 'start praying.' I started crying because I saw Russian tanks standing there and I understood that they might attack our car," she remembers vividly. They made it out and stayed in Vinnitsya for the night before heading to the Carpathian mountains, where they stayed at a friends’ house for a few days before going to the Polish border.
Ira’s dad stayed behind in Ukraine, while Ira and the rest of her family went to Gdyinia, where her mom’s sister lives. She found a family who gave Ira and her mother a place to stay.
"We are incredibly grateful because they have been so hospitable. They make us feel safe, they understand us.”, she says. Overall, her family is adjusting well in Poland. Ira even speaks some Polish, so she can get around quite well. She is getting her high school diploma online. Ira still has high hopes for the future, and is planning to go to medical school. “As far as college, I´ll see, If everything ends in Ukraine, then of course, I´ll study in Ukraine. But if not, then I´ll learn Polish and pass the language exam here and get my degree here. So try to get into college here," she says.
Read more stories here.
Canadian Jesuits International is receiving donations for the work of Jesuits and their lay partners in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries as they accompany people forcibly displaced by this war.
To make a donation:
Please send your cheques to:
Canadian Jesuits International
70 St Mary Street
or you can donate online: