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By Andrew Fowler

Knights from Melitopol organize spiritual and recreational camps for children affected by ongoing conflict in Ukraine

On the banks of the Sea of Azov, Ukraine’s southern border, more than 150 children participated in a recreational and spiritual formation camp organized by Knights from St. Peter Council 16252 in Melitopol. For these children, it’s more than just a week-long summer camp; it’s a refuge from war.

The majority of campers, ages 7 to 18, come from low-income or single parent families. Others have watched their parents serve as Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) soldiers fighting against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Many are counted among the 1.5 million displaced families who fled their homes due to the ongoing combat that has caused more than 10,000 deaths since 2014.

Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Sviatoslav Shevchuk, spoke at the Knights of Columbus’ 136th Supreme Convention where Ukraine was designated a state council. Since 2013, 25 councils have been established in Ukraine and more than 1,000 men there have joined the Order. Archbishop Mokrzycki of Lviv of the Latins also addressed the attendees of the Convention and said: “the Knights of Columbus serve as role models for what it means to be a Catholic husband, father, faithful and good citizen. In these first few years, the Knights have done wonders in Ukraine, and I know the years to come will be even more fruitful.”

At the convention, Major Archbishop Shevchuk pleaded for the international community not to neglect the struggles Ukrainian citizens are facing.

“The war, in fact, has already caused the biggest humanitarian crisis on the European continent since the end of the Second World War,” Shevchuk said. “And yet, this is a silent and forgotten war. Because it is a ‘frozen conflict,’ no one speaks loudly about the war in Ukraine anymore.”

The civil unrest in Ukraine began in late 2013, when former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich sought to seek closer cooperation with the Russian government and abandon a European Union economic agreement. A few months later, Crimea – formerly a Ukraine territory – voted in a referendum to join Russia that has been considered dubious by the international community. Since then, Ukraine forces and pro-Russian separatists have been fighting for land on Ukraine’s eastern border. The conflict has continued to cause tensions between members of NATO and Russia.

Immediately after the military conflict began, Ukrainian councils in Kiev and Lviv began raising funds to help wounded soldiers. Knights in Ivano-Frankivsk organized summer rehabilitation camps for wounded soldiers, veterans and their families. In addition, Knights have aided families of fallen soldiers and visited wounded soldiers in military hospitals.

Members of Council 16252 have been part of the initiative to alleviate the suffering of those affected by the conflict for the past four years by organizing the camp in association with its parish, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Knights volunteer as cooks, medical assistants and counselors.

The camp has two parts: “Fun Holidays with God” aimed at 7 to 12 year olds and “Oasis” for 13 to 18 year olds. The camp focuses on evangelization and pastoral care by teaching about the faith and holding prayer sessions.

Council 16252 not only hosts summer camps, but is aiming to hold prayer sessions and to operate camps throughout the year. The Knights have also invited children from Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish in Melitopol for the next summer session.

Additionally, they sponsor other projects for the parish, including organizing mini-hospices, daily kitchens for the homeless and housing assistance for families in need.

To learn more about the Knights, click here.

Share your story with andrew.fowler@kofc.org