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Ukraine eyewitness: Its like a horror film, a nightmare

  • Jo Siedlecka

Kharkiv bomb shelter - Image Depaul International

Kharkiv bomb shelter - Image Depaul International

"I have never seen anything like it, and I've been working in the humanitarian sector for 30 years. It's like a horror film, a nightmare" - Matthew Carter, CEO of Depaul International told ICN, speaking on the road to Bratislava, after six days visiting projects in Ukraine.

"There are whole areas that smell of burning buildings… I spoke with one grandmother who told me what they experienced was worse than World War II. It's the brutality as well as the sheer scale of devastation."

Matthew met one elderly woman who had to bury husband at bottom of the garden - "it looked like a village outside London," he said. "People asked me - 'what have we done wrong? We are old people at the end of our lives and just want peace.'"

Mathew arrived in Ukraine from Poland, travelling by car from Krakow to Lviv. "We had a six hour wait at the border as the convoys rolled through" he said.

Accompanied by Fr Vitaly Novak CM, a parish priest who also runs Depaul Ukraine services, Mathew visited the Vincentian Fathers and the Daughters of Charity. "They are doing doing extraordinary work, in the thick of it...Their hospitality was wonderful. They were thrilled to have us visit, to be able to talk and debrief," he said.

Matthew said he impressed with the kindness of the Ukrainian people: "We arrived in one place and were told: 'it's all right. We don't need help here - but we'll take you down the road where they do.' People showed great generosity and solidarity."

Depaul is serving in projects around Ukraine, focussing on the most vulnerable. In the last few months their workload has dramatically increased.

There was little to time to sleep during Matthew's visit. Each night was punctuated by air raid sirens and explosions. When they stayed in houses they often had to rush out of bed. Some nights were spent in makeshift bomb shelters.

In Odessa, during Matthew's visit, there were 12 missile strikes. In Moschun just outside Kyiv, 80% of the buildings were destroyed. And in Zaporycha - where Depaul also works, more buildings were struck.

He said: "There's the physical aspect, which is horrific, but there's also the psychological side - vast levels of trauma. 65% of Ukrainians suffered from some sort of trauma... .Every family has someone on the front line."

In Odessa, Matthew said he had seen groups of new solders chatting, laughing - all looking clean and tidy. "This morning I saw saw some coming back from the front line. They looked exhausted," he said.

An estimated 20% of the population has left Ukraine, but Mathew said, people want to be home. Depaul now has a small psychiatric team of three working in the country. They recently set up call centres. They were expecting about 400 calls. On the first day one centre received 2000.

De Paul runs day centres for the homeless and displaced around the world. They offer a warm space, hot meals and showers. Depaul Ukraine was established in 2007 as a response to the growing numbers of homeless people there - It is currently working in Kharkiv, Kyiv, Odessa and Ivano-Frankivsk regions of the country.

Before the war, Ukraine already had major problems with homelessness. With temperatures as low as -20C, frostbite, deep snow, lack of access to medical care and, crucially, a loss of identity. The street homeless in Ukraine often have no ID, they are lost to the healthcare and government systems. Because of this, there is no official count of homeless people in the Ukraine, but it was estimated thousands of homeless people were already dying every year. With the war displacing so many people, the need is so much greater now.

Matthew said: "The UN estimates 12.2 million people are in extreme need. We're focussing on the extremely vulnerable. We also have a small amount of sheltered housing - and we are looking at temporary housing...Supplying warm clothes, blankets and fuel. There's no electricity or heating.

"People are terrified of what is to come when winter sets in. Temperatures can reach minus 20C and thousands of people are homeless. The need cannot be overstated...

For more information and to support Depaul Ukraine see: https://int.depaulcharity.org/fundraising-for-depaul-ukraine/

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