Lubov Koropets and her children hid in their basement in Gostomel, Ukraine, when the Russian military bombed nearby Antonov Airport on Feb. 24. Confused and terrified, they eventually evacuated with the assistance of Koropets’ brother, who helped them weave through the ensuing mayhem.
“We fled under fire,” Koropets recounted. “When I decided to run, the bridge behind our house was blown up.”
Koropets and her children traveled first to Vasilkov, then to Lviv, cities that have also been subjected to bombing. Finally, in late March, they arrived at the Knights of Columbus Mercy Center in Hrebenne, a town at the Polish-Ukrainian border. There, boarding an Order-sponsored bus to Slovenia on March 22, Koropets experienced something she hadn’t felt in nearly a month.
“Today, for the first time, we felt safe,” she said.
Koropets and more than 80 other Ukrainian refugees have been welcomed to Slovenia thanks to the efforts of Tamino Petelinšek, a Slovenian photographer and a member of Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Maude Council 10292 in Rhein Main, Germany. Petelinšek, who has been documenting the Order’s humanitarian work in Poland and Ukraine, worked with the Knights of Columbus to arrange two buses from Hrebenne to his native country, where Caritas Slovenia is assisting the refugees with housing, schooling, medical care and jobs. The first bus arrived there March 22; a second arrived April 3.
Petelinšek was inspired to organize the transportation by his work photographing refugees in Lviv and at the border. Seeing women and children desperate for a ride to safety, he worried they would be targeted by human traffickers.
“There was a young family coming from the border, a young mother with three young kids, and they were exhausted, and it was late in the evening,” Petelinšek recalled. “A young and nicely dressed man crossed their path, offering them a kind face, and gave the kids some Toblerone Swiss chocolates, promising to take them to Switzerland. They trusted him and entered the car with no other security measure. According to press articles, many such stories end differently, violently.”
Refugees embarking for the 17-hour drive to Slovenia from the Mercy Center in Hrebenne on March 22 were thankful for the welcome and assistance of the Knights of Columbus and other organizations.
“For me, this is also a second chance and an opportunity to start a new life,” said Marina Legkoduh, a refugee from Chernivtsi. “I am very grateful for this trip and for this opportunity.”
Petelinšek believes the Order’s work for refugees and displaced people is in the spirit of its founder, Blessed Michael McGivney, who established the fraternal organization to protect the vulnerable.
“Father McGivney helped families in need,” Petelinšek said. “And he has been acting for the refugees right now.”
Supporting the Ukraine Solidarity Fund will provide temporary shelter, food, medical supplies, clothing, communications and religious supplies for those in need. These items will all be immediately distributed, and 100% of your gift will go directly to these displaced people.
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