Care for Ukrainians Escaping War (Part 2)

Ukrainian children who perform at a charity concert in Warsaw for Tzu Chi’s aid hold sunflowers, their homeland’s national flower, symbolizing “Resistance, Solidarity, Hope.”

Written by Ida Eva Zielinska
Photos by Tzu Chi Team

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Training Volunteers

With relief distributions in Warsaw scheduled for May 6, the next order of business was volunteer training, which took place on the first of the month. Sixteen Ukrainians came, eager to assist their people.

The training participants gained a deeper understanding of the Tzu Chi spirit of unconditional love in action. They also practiced the disaster relief protocol, based on equality between giver and receiver and respect.

I was astonished by the kindness of these people. I was touched by it. They do an extremely important thing. They teach how to love.

Irena Romaniv
Ukrainian Volunteer

As part of the training, they learned the popular Tzu Chi song “One Family,” which succinctly expresses unity across all divisions, a core principle of Tzu Chi’s philosophy. Seeing how Tzu Chi has rallied to help them and how Poles have embraced them with open arms, despite a complex shared history between the two Slavic peoples, the Ukrainians wanted to express their thanks and found a unique way to do so.

Tzu Chi volunteers Faisal Hu and his wife Nadya Chou share about disaster relief in Turkey, which involves aid projects for Syrian refugees.

I was moved and even cried when I heard them sing ‘One Family’ in Ukrainian, and I was told that they wanted to give us a surprise. I was very, very emotional and they sang beautifully with the feeling of love.

Faisal Hu
Tzu Chi Turkey Volunteer

Moreover, the gift of song would evolve, as Anastasia Malashenko, one of the trainees, is a singer, and she and other artists wanted to thank Tzu Chi for the aid even further and proposed a concert as part of the May 6 distributions. They rehearsed for two days in preparation for their charity performance.

Songs of Solidarity and the Gift of Hope

As the care recipients at the “Songs of Solidarity for Ukraine” charity concert on May 6 heard their native songs, many couldn’t hold back their tears, the pain and worry they have been experiencing since leaving home etched on their faces. It was especially heart-wrenching when the Oratorium Children’s Choir performed, as concern about the future was a strong current in the room.

Watching the Oratorium Children’s Choir sing “Ukraine Is Us” is particularly heartbreaking for many in the audience.
Many in the audience at the “Songs of Solidarity for Ukraine” charity concert can’t keep their tears at bay.

Surely, we expected emotions and that everybody will be happy to hear our songs, but what we saw, the tears and emotions on people's faces, just exceeded all expectations.

Anastasia Malashenko
Ukrainian Volunteer
Care Recipient

There was a chorus of tearful comments after the concert. “It was very emotional because it’s the first concert I’ve attended since the war started and I became a refugee,” and When I heard these songs on stage, I felt the pain of the children who suffered and died because of the war in our beautiful Ukraine.”

Tzu Chi volunteers also felt their emotions surge, Faisal sharing, “Everybody cried,” his wife Nadya adding, “Although we couldn’t understand [the lyrics], we were all very moved. Music is the common language.”

Once the distributions began, several that day, care recipients were overwhelmed by the generosity in the shopping cards they received, one for each family member, and each loaded with zł 2,000 – the equivalent of 500 USD. The sum can cover the cost of groceries per person for several months and accommodate some other living expenses as well. The care recipients’ voices echoed astonishment about the amount of aid. 

“It’s such a huge sum of money just to share with someone for free. I still can’t believe that it’s happening to me!” one said. “First, I thought it was a misunderstanding or something. It was so unexpected and wonderful,” shared another. “It’s happiness to know that tomorrow we don’t have to starve,” was their root message.

My husband and I have eight children. When I heard each family member would get a card, I cried with joy. With this card, we’ll have a food supply for our family for half a year or more.

Natalila
Ukrainian Care Recipient
Anastasia Malashenko (third left) and the Oratorium Children’s Choir perform at the “Songs of Solidarity for Ukraine” charity concert in Warsaw on May 6, 2022.
The volunteers give gift shopping cards to their fellow Ukrainians with utmost respect and care.

One mother added another layer of gratitude, saying “We received financial support, and it means a lot. But what is most important is that we received love and care. Everyone passed us a small part of their soul. Support from people from all over the world is priceless.”

I believe that Master Cheng Yen's love has been conveyed to their hearts, and they’ve felt the love and care we all have for them.

Nadya Chou
Tzu Chi Turkey Volunteer

I think that these cards just gave everybody hope.

Tatiana Voytovich
Ukrainian Volunteer

Moreover, the distributions brought together different faiths for a common cause. Polish clergy was part of the preparations alongside Tzu Chi volunteers, as the event took place at a Catholic church.

For two weeks at St. John Bosco Oratory in Warsaw, we were preparing for this great event. It was hard work but also a great joy. Today, the families who received gift cards were helped in coming back, you can say, to normalcy, because they can do the shopping themselves. We were very happy that we could offer a little space of freedom and normality and a sense of family.

Fr. Sławomir Szczodrowski
Head
St. John Bosco Oratory

During the charity concert, Pastor Edmund Modzelewski also delivered a message of solidarity and thanks, highlighting the universal aspiration for peace. 

I’d like to warmly thank the organizers, who showed tremendous heart, came here from so far to be with you, with us, to jointly together with us, with their hearts, share what we feel, what we think about, and want to ask benevolent God for, which is peace in Ukraine, for the end of the war. Here, in Warsaw, we pray for peace for your country every day and that we can all live in a free country, and that nothing will threaten us. Jointly here, we want to raise a prayer on this stage…

Edmund Modzelewski
Pastor
Basilica of Sacred Heart of Jesus
With the assistance of 27 volunteers, the distributions on May 6 in Warsaw benefit 621 Ukrainians, comprising 254 households.
Pastor Edmund Modzelewski addresses the audience at the “Songs of Solidarity for Ukraine” concert preceding aid distributions on May 6.

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Buddhists and Catholics prayed side by side, as many people around the world are doing, yearning for an end to this dangerous eruption of hostilities in Europe. 

Apart from the distributions in Warsaw in the first week of May, others were held in Poznań and Lublin. Aid provision would persist in those cities in the weeks ahead. Yet sadly, the cause of the Ukrainian refugees’ current state of displacement and suffering, the war in their homeland, rages on, so their futures remain uncertain.

Tzu Chi’s Aid Is Only Beginning

Tzu Chi’s disaster relief typically responds to natural catastrophes or accidents, which have a clear start and end. However, the impact of a human manufactured disaster such as war can be a prolonged evolving tragedy.

Now, two months later, my parents and my cat who I had left with them are still in Kyiv, okay and relatively safe. But I have not seen them since and it breaks my heart.

Nataliia Maidannyk
Ukrainian Journalist
Tzu Chi Team Translator
Ukrainians wait outside the distribution site in Poznań, where they will receive zł 2,000 shopping cards on May 7.

While Nataliia found refuge in Poland for now, some of her friends chose to stay in Ukraine. Iryna Knyshnyk decided to take special training and become a combat medic, now rescuing military and civilian lives and even animals. She writes that something frightens her more than the actual scenes and experiences of warfare.

As long as [there exists] in people’s minds the idea that war is normal, could be justified and somebody has the right to kill other people, this horror will be repeated again and again all over the world. And this is awful. War is the most horrible and disgusting thing in the world. I wish no one experienced it. No one in the whole world. Never again.

Iryna Knyshnyk
Ukrainian Combat Medic

While no one wants history to keep repeating itself, her wish demands that humanity relinquish its potential for anger, hatred, and violence, finally choosing a different path as so many world faiths guide.

Only when the heart is peaceful can this man-made disaster be quelled.

Dharma Master Cheng Yen

Unfortunately, this latest war has joined other ongoing conflicts worldwide. And while, as another journalist friend of Nataliia, Antonina Kucherenko, wrote, “I think each Ukrainian wants to live at home or return home,” the time is not right for those who left to go back.

Tzu Chi volunteers will continue offering humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians who fled the war, helping resolve the families’ food needs, to start.

Ukrainian journalist Nataliia Maidannyk (left front) helps the Tzu Chi team as a translator, assisting Ting Fan (right front), Director of Tzu Chi USA’s Culture and Communication Department, in documenting this phase of the aid mission.

Food is the essentials, right? You can’t continue life without food so it’s a great gift, a very big support.

Victoria
Ukrainian Care Recipient

Once the last of the Biedronka supermarket cards are given out, Tzu Chi will provide prepaid debit cards that care recipients can use in any store. The blankets shipped from Taiwan also arrived and are now being distributed in several cities. 

We weren’t expecting that it would be that cold in the morning. It’s very warm and my mom told me that it’s made from plastic bottles, so it helps the environment too!

Kate
Ukrainian Care Recipient
A Ukrainian mother leaves the Lublin distribution site on May 16, beaming with gratitude for the shopping gift cards that will help her feed her children and the eco-blankets to keep them warm.

In addition to Tzu Chi’s other aid, may these eco-blankets help the displaced Ukrainian mothers keep their children warm and comfort them during the gravely stressful and unsettling times for these families.

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