The war in Ukraine might be “old news” but it is still very much a current, harsh reality for those who had to leave their country and loved ones behind, according to Martin Azzopardi, a member of the Society of Christian Doctrine.
He should know. He has just spent the summer travelling through Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia meeting displaced Ukrainians.
“In Malta, I am noting a growing apathy. In the beginning, when the war on Ukraine broke out [on February 24] everyone was rushing to offer support. But this has died down,” he said.
“People need to see that there is a difference between the political aspect of the war and the social one: the people who are still suffering. And this is still very raw for Ukrainians who need support,” Azzopardi added.
The dwindling support was also noted by Anna Syurma, assistant to the honorary consul of Ukraine in Malta, on the occasion of the six-month anniversary of the invasion by Russia.
The Maltese had shown huge support, she said, but over the weeks it had diminished, even though Ukrainians in Malta still needed basics like food, jobs and school supplies.
Between July and September 1, Azzopardi travelled across the three countries where he offered his support through his profession as a psycho-spiritual therapist. He visited monasteries run by Capuchin friars who were housing refugees.
“Getting to know the Ukrainian refugees was an unforgettable experience as I came in touch with the true reality of the suffering Ukrainian people,” he said.
He collected some stories along the way, such as that of Aleksandra Panchuk, 31, from Vinnytsa, a town in central Ukraine.
When the war broke out she left with her seven-year-old daughter, Anastasiia.
They took the bus to Warsaw and a Ukrainian friend arranged for them to travel on to Slovakia where they found refuge at the Capuchin Friars’ house and at the volunteer organisation Ukrainian House.
“Since I left Ukraine, I cried every night as I left behind my family, friends and my job,” she told Azzopardi.
“My life and my future are shattered and that is also why I still cry sometimes… I work as a nurse with Ukrainian soldiers and it breaks my heart knowing that they have to fight for our country. I already experienced the death of many soldiers back in 2014 and it is very painful to me.
“Sincerely, I feel incredibly pride for our Ukrainian soldiers who have the courage and strength to protect our land,” she added.
“On the other hand, it is very hard and painful to get to know that many of these soldiers are dying on the front in defending our country. Their children remain orphans, wives become widows, and mothers lose their sons.”
Eighty-three-year-old Cherkas Vera Andriivna recalled how the years of World War II and the difficult post-war period “fell on my childhood and youth life”.
“After that I had a happy life in the city of Kharkiv, where I got married, had my own home, gave birth to two daughters and raised them. On February 24, 2022, at 4.30am, my peaceful old life ended by the sound of artillery fire from the side of the border with Russia,” she recalled.
“I have a dream to live until the time when my city, like other cities of Ukraine, will be rebuilt.”
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