More Than Prayers: The Faithful Helping Ukraine’s Frontline | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW
Surrounded by lush green parkland amid communist-era social housing blocks, the Greek-Catholic Ivano-Frankivsk Monastery exudes a sense of calm in otherwise tumultuous times.
Loudspeakers broadcast litanies to the elderly seated on pews, which echo the prayers in low voices. Nearby, women with prams and children in tow enjoy the spring weather. Most are internally displaced people who have sought refuge from fighting further east; Since Russia launched its invasion in late February, the monastery has hosted dozens of people.
More than prayers and hospitality
Standing at the gate of the monastery is Brother Ivan, who agreed to show me how the religious community supports the Ukrainian Armed Forces beyond their prayers and hospitality.
Brother Ivan is one of several volunteers who support the Ukrainian army with humanitarian aid and military equipment
We walk down a long hallway, which borders several living spaces and bedrooms still under construction. There, time seems to have stopped. “As you can see, the consequences of the war are also noticeable here,” says Ivan, adding that renovations had to stop once construction workers signed up to support the army and left for the front line.
Far from the litanies and the half-finished construction site, he guides me underground towards a vast vaulted room lit with harsh white light. There, a group of women, young and old, are busy tying ropes to form a net.
Most are observant and hail from the Ivano-Frankivsk oblast, or region, in western Ukraine, where more than half the population observes the Greek-Catholic faith. Among them are pensioners who simply did not want to sit at home while the war raged outside.
Nadiya, whose name means “hope” in Ukrainian, is one of them. “Since I don’t know how to use a firearm, I do what I can,” she says. “I could cook dumplings, but I’d rather make these camouflage nets instead – they can protect someone’s life, especially our soldiers’.”
In another room, half-hidden by a pile of boxes, sits a sewing machine. This is where the volunteers pieced together hundreds of pairs of underwear for the soldiers. To date, they have already filled around 70 boxes.
Bread, clothing and first aid kits
Back upstairs, the comforting smell of freshly baked bread pervades the monastery as we walk through the upper floors. Hundreds of breads are made here every week. Some are given to refugees sheltering in the monastery, while the rest are distributed to local people in need and sent to soldiers further afield.
Behind a locked door, which Brother Ivan, with a wry smile, calls their “war cabinet”, essential supplies are gathered for the front line. The room is filled with boxes and dozens of handmade balaclavas and other gray, green, and sand-colored garments. A nearby library contains a few pairs of military boots, lined up in front of dusty religious texts and a collection of “Lord of the Rings” DVDs.
Monks and volunteers assemble urgently needed military equipment, including these bulletproof vests
Here, under the watchful eye of a painting by Saint Alonso, one of the monastery’s patrons, volunteers prepare military equipment and sew bulletproof vests.
“We have already managed to assemble 30 complete vests with plates that have already been given to the soldiers, and we have ordered more plates,” Brother Ivan explains. Such equipment has been difficult to obtain since the beginning of the war, even in military circles. But when he finally arrives, the volunteers immediately assemble the vests and transport them to the front line.
To make up for the lack of basic medical supplies, the monks also prepare first aid kits from scratch for hostile environments, following the guidelines used by most Western armies. Known as Modular Light Load-Carrying Equipment (MOLLE), the kits contain basic equipment to manage combat injuries such as gunshot wounds. But the most important thing is missing: a tourniquet, used to slow bleeding.
Bread, clothes, medical supplies and nets like these are assembled at the monastery and sent to the soldiers in the east
“We had it before, but there’s a shortage right now,” says Ivan. “Each one costs around €25. We have contacted our sponsors, and I hope we will have some again very soon. Support came mainly from Greek Catholic monasteries across Europe, which provided financial or logistical aid since the start of the war.
At least once a week, Brother Ivan and his fellow monks accumulate what they have managed to piece together and go to the front lines, risking their lives to try to protect their country.
Edited by: Martin Kuebler