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News of L'Arche in Ukraine

News of L'Arche in Ukraine

 

Update – April 27, 2022 

Ukrainian refugee finds safety, welcome and acceptance in L’Arche


As Russian forces advanced on his town in Ukraine’s heavily contested Donbass region, a group of friends helped to save Igor Gusev's life.
 
Born with cerebral palsy, Igor has managed to live independently with some limited support and the companionship of a beloved black cat. His community shunned him, but for the efforts of his few friends.
 
As bombing and violence approached his home, Igor’s friends packed him and just a bit of luggage into a car and headed west.
 
While Igor sadly had to leave his pet behind, he found new friends – and support – in the L’Arche community in Poznan, Poland. The Polish L’Arche communities have rapidly transformed themselves into a network of emergency care for people living with disabilities and their caregivers.
 
Igor’s disability is physical, but he appreciates the care he receives for the soul, too. “In L’Arche I met sincere love, peace … peace and respect,” Igor said.
 
For most of his life, he has moved independently by crawling on his four limbs. His fully functioning left hand allows him to dress himself or hold a cup of coffee. 
 
Escaping a war, however, proved far more difficult to achieve independently. Research, and L’Arche’s nearly six decades of experience, indicate that people like Igor have a greater challenge fleeing disasters like war, and finding access to services.
 
A volunteer organization in Poland came across Igor and, once understanding his needs, asked if L’Arche could help.
 
L’Arche was able to find a place for Igor even as L’Arche Poland’s communities are filling with refugees. He likes to live life as independently as possible, but he reluctantly asked his new L’Arche friends for help moving about in a house not fully adapted yet for someone in a wheelchair.
 
Donors to the L’Arche Emergency Fund are changing that, with renovations planned to adapt a bathroom to accommodate Igor and others with mobility needs.
 
The L’Arche Emergency fund – which supports communities in crisis – are making sure Igor and many others get needed care.
 
L’Arche’s two communities in Ukraine too have been able to help people fleeing war have a safe space to land and, in many cases, to continue to nearby countries hosting refugees. In Lithuania and Poland our communities have also opened their doors, with even staff and volunteers hosting guests from Ukraine in their private homes.
 
L’Arche communities in Poland have joined other local organizations to craft a tapestry of services aimed at supporting people with disabilities and their caregivers, which is often their families.
 
“In Wroclaw community we have created a day-care place where every mother who needs at least a few hours of respite will be able to safely leave her child and take care of other urgent matters for her own and their good,” L’Arche Poland National Leader Agnieszka Karolak said.
 
L’Arche is also involved in the PATCHWORK Association in Krakow, a network of people from Ukraine working for immigrant families of people with disabilities. L’Arche and others have helped to weave a support network of institutions and facilities dedicated to supporting people with intellectual disabilities.
 
With funding, PATCHWORK Association aims to formalize the reception of people with disabilities and their families, including transport from the border, providing short-term accommodation, assessing needs and opportunities for long-term assistance as well as psycho-social care for people who have fled.
 
“The people we have welcomed want to contribute and help somehow but, at the same time, they also have very real needs,” Karolak said.
 
Igor too has needs. A friend of the L’Arche community where he is now hosted offered a laptop to support his communication needs.
 
And while he dreams of one day having an electric wheelchair so that his mobility will not depend on his left hand alone, he has already made life-long friends in the Polish L’Arche community that welcomed him. Lidia, who lives with disability herself and welcomed Igor into her L’Arche community’s home, has become fast friends with “my dear Igor,” as she calls him.
 
 “It's like paradise and it's a miracle that I'm here", Igor says. He finds he is treated so well here, like "a human being, not an invalid."
 
 
Igor enjoys his new community in Poznan, Poland.

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Update – April 19, 2022

Workshop re-opens, offering connection and community as war rages

Anton Yakobchuk likes to make candles in the L’Arche Kovcheh workshop, but it’s his connection with others that is the real product.
It's important for me to be in the workshop because I like to communicate, to talk with people,” he said.
The workshop has been shuttered since Feb. 24, when hostilities escalated. Ever since, many L’Arche members like Yakobchuk have been isolated, a sense of loneliness punctuated by air raid sirens.
“I was afraid when there were air sirens,” L’Arche member Galnya Nychyk said. “I was afraid to go outside, to the store. I am very sad because there is no communication. I have already started to speak to myself.”
Danger, and fear, is what prompted community leaders in L’Arche’s Lviv community to temporarily close down the workshop that has been open for two decades.

“No one knew what would happen next and we were as if frozen,” L’Arche Kovcheh leader Lesia Larikova said. “Not everyone can be online and we know how difficult it is for the core members when the workshops are closed.”
But even as attacks on Lviv escalated this week, the L’Arche community developed a plan to open the workshop safely. Stop by stop on an alternative and safe route, a minibus makes safe passage around the city to collect L’Arche members with disabilities, to bring them to a workshop where they can experience connection and community.
“We have chosen the two safest places, which are partially basement and classified in our reality as a shelter,” Larikova said. “Our minibus takes a safe route around the city, bringing core members to the workshops. They love to ride the bus, so they enjoy this innovation.”
It is an innovation that has weighed heavily on leaders in L’Arche Ukraine. Even as the risk of attack rises as the war drags on, so, too do the risks of isolation, loneliness and inactivity.

 

“When the sirens go off, we use the time for prayer and for personal sharing,” Larikova said.

“Such 'trips' to the shelter are usually received with understanding.”
The minibus circulates so that members can arrive to work in one of two shifts. Once they arrive, members put their hands to work making crafts with beads and other materials that they offer for sale.
Idle hands moving from being filled with worry to activity and purpose is helpful. Perhaps even more so is being able to reconnect with friends following such a time of isolation.
“We know our members have limited opportunity to connect with friends because of the isolating nature of disability and of war,” L’Arche Vice-International Delegate Manca Kastelic said. “Most have very limited internet or computer availability, which keeps them even more isolated.”
“We were all a little scared at first because the firing rockets did not stop,” Larikova said. “We had to adjust the work of the community including the air alerts and the danger that continues to this day.”

Other acts of normalcy in the face of war’s chaos have also taken root. For the first time during the war, last week the community celebrated a joint liturgy in person. Those who could not come in person joined online.
Workshop leader Maria Voityvich feels promise, even as she and others acknowledge risks.
“Opening the workshop is a sign of hope,” she said. “Hope that we can see each other, talk a lot, support each other, pray together, look into the living eyes, not staring into a computer monitor.”

Naturally, news of the war has filled the days of L’Arche members in Ukraine. Even with intermittent trips to the air raid shelter, L’Arche member Dmytro Kryzanovskiy finds comfort in the workshop’s availability.
“There are friends here, there is work, you can sort out the beads, help in the kitchen,” he said. “There is a place for everyone here.”

1st picture: Members of one workshop group take a break for a song in Lviv.
2nd picture: L’Arche Kocheh workshop participants take shelter in a safe space in Lviv following an air raid siren.

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Update – April 14, 2022

To stay or go?

Anticipating difficulties, mother makes painful decision to flee with her disabled son.

Even though Ol'ha Lubomyrov broke both of her ankles just before the first attacks of war came in Ukraine, she knew staying in Kyiv would put two lives at risk: her disabled son’s, and her own.

“On March 7, I heard the sounds of explosions near our home,” Lubomyrov said. "We crowded into the hallways and closed all the doors. It was frightening.”

Lubomyrov thought of her son, Lubomyr, whose autism would make evacuating incredibly challenging. He thrives on a schedule and a sense of order in his day. Now age 30, Lubomyr struggles when overwhelmed with sound stimuli.

She had seen the images of train stations overflowing with people trying to leave, and of attacks on public spaces those fleeing would need to cross.

Yet it was the thought of what could happen if she stayed in Kyiv that ultimately drove her to take the risk of leaving.

“I was worried that something would happen to me and Lubomyr wouldn’t understand that I was no longer here,” Lubomyrov said. “When we watched the news I saw something in his eyes. I wasn’t going to leave because of my difficulties walking. I felt guilty that I could not bring my son to safety.

“But then I could read it in his eyes,” ‘mom, save me’,” she said.

Friends who had left called many times and finally convinced her and Lubomyr they needed to leave.

The journey to safety

As members of Ukraine’s Faith and Light spiritual community, Lubomyrov and Lubomyr are used to enjoying a trip to summer camp.

“So I think he thought we were going to summer camp,” Lubomyrov said.

It was a comforting thought against a growing list of unknowns. Would the train station be noisy? Would the crowd force Lubomyr into a meltdown? Would police consider his uncontrollable actions, as a fully-grown man, as violent? Would strangers shun them because of Lubomyr’s disability?

Bringing only the barest of essentials, mother and son made their way to an evacuation point. There, they happened to connect with others in the Faith and Light community who had access to a minivan. It was a relief to Lubomyrov.

“It was cold but the van had blankets and pillows, and we were comfortable,” she said. “We did not ask, “where are we going?”

The trip took 16 hours. Soldiers at checkpoints tried to question Lubomyr, leading to some tense moments before they realized his disability.

In western Ukraine friends of the L’Arche community in Lviv welcomed Lubomyrov and her son. They sheltered in a school set up to host people fleeing the war. There, they learned other friends of L’Arche in the Faith and Light community might be able to help them to make it to Poland, and a much more safe environment.

Even though a journey to Poland was fraught with many unknowns, it was a risk Lubomyrov knew she had to take.

Overwhelmed at the border

Lubomyrov says the border was not chaotic but generally well controlled. But in the arena-sized housing facility, echoing with the din of hundreds living in limbo, the noise overwhelmed Lubomyr.

“It’s set up to serve many people and well organized, with plenty of food and medical care,” Lubromyrov said.

Lubomyr had a meltdown, which brought the attention of medical staff and police. They were understanding and helpful but his mother knew it would not be sustainable for Lubomyr to stay there.

A friend of L’Arche helped to collect the mother and son and connect them with first a temporary place to stay and now, a private room set up by an aid organization, where Lubomyr plays with the fraying stuffed blue dolphin he brought as his only toy from home.

The family has settled into a routine. Lubromyrov remains connected to her friends in Kyiv, one of whom cares for her disabled son and fears the challenges of leaving with him even as bombs and rockets continue to fall, weeks into the war.

And Lubromyrov remains connected through a daily online gathering with others from Faith and Light, L’Arche and extended friends in a time of prayer.

“Every day we look forward to our evening prayer, we meet a lot of people from all over the world and feel their support,’ she said. “It is the main event of our day.”

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Update – April 6, 2022

Emergency fund sustains critical connections

Community’s power remains unbreakable by bombs and war

Olesia Larikova, the community leader of L'Arche-Kovcheh in Ukraine, describes how many of her community’s members respond when air raid warning sirens sound.

"When the alarm sounds, they take stools and go to the common corridor, where they are safest from attack,” Larikova said. “And there they pray on a rosary with the neighbors.”

Even as war attempts to sever connections, the strength of L’Arche’s community relationships in Ukraine and nearby countries remain strong.

Since the beginning of the war, L’Arche communities in Poland and Lithuania have provided connection and support to those fleeing the war’s violence, as well as to the two L’Arche communities in Ukraine – whose members have remained even as they have helped others to escape.

The L’Arche Emergency Fund sustains deliveries of critical supplies from Poland to L’Arche Lviv and Ternopil. The Poznan community van shuttles materials to a rendezvous point just inside the Ukrainian border, from where a van from Lviv delivers them to those in need.

“Our action was very simple,” L’Arche Poznan community leader Michal Talar said. “We used our resources, the help of volunteers, and an available car. We drove the needed items to the other side of the border where we transferred them to another vehicle that took them to the community in Lviv.

“The decision was not difficult,” Talar said. “With support from the L’Arche Emergency Fund, the biggest task was to coordinate the work of the volunteers, and to communicate with the community in Ukraine.”

The operation has been able to deliver critical medicines, supplies and food to Ukraine’s L’Arche communities, which have maintained community connection even as they endure attacks.

The community connection has not been limited to those who are part of L’Arche. Doors in L’Arche communities in Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland have opened, including those who have welcomed refugees into private residences as friends of L’Arche.

Assistance has been provided to many, with and without disabilities, who are simply in need of help in a time of crisis.

In Vilnius, 7-year-old Oleg has brought unexpected vitality to L’Arche Betzata, Lithuania. Paper airplanes fly over the dinner table. “The childish ability to wonder and openness warms the core-members and assistants of our community,” L’Arche Betzata Community Leader Ruta Domarkaite - Cerniauske said.

Comfort and support are freely offered. Vasily Kravets, a L’Arche community member living with disabilities in Lviv, was on his way to mass with Larikova Friday evening when they saw a woman kneeling, and crying on the street.

“Vasily approached her and hugged her, she responded to his embrace and leaned close to him,” Larikova said.

Faith & Light communities inside Ukraine, joined by many members of both Faith & Light and L’Arche communities from across the world, continue to lead an online prayer time daily. The times of connection and community have been meaningful, and a common place of peace for many.  

So, too are the regular shipments of supplies from L’Arche Poznan in Poland.

“It is a valuable experience for us, which continues because of the L’Arche Emergency Fund,” Talar said. “The compassion with which the community took on this project is in strong contrast to the brutality and senselessness of war. “

(1st photo: Community members unload a L’Arche van with food and supplies made possible by the L’Arche Emergency Fund. 2nd photo: Oleg, nearly age 8, forced to flee by the war. 3rd photo: Vasily Kravets, friend Lesya Lyakh and Sister Lucia in more peaceful times in Ukraine)

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Update – March 30, 2022

Open doors and hearts welcome refugees in Ukraine and in Lithuania 

As troops and tanks advanced on the ground and bombs fell from the sky, Khrystyna Bila made peace with her decision to leave Kyiv.   

"I only thought about the fact that I must protect my children, to give them food, and keep them safe and healthy,” the mother of two children said. “I have to do everything so that my children would be happy and smile. Firstly I'm a mom. I have to survive for them, give them life.”  

Khrystyna Bila found safety in one of L’Arche’s communities in Lithuania, a country where those with deep memories anxiously watch the advance of Russian troops in Ukraine while opening their doors to people in need at the same time.  

Around 20,000 have sought shelter in Lithuania as the war there has entered its second month. A national organization has helped to piece together places for refugees to stay. This includes L’Arche communities and even the homes of L’Arche team in Lithuania.   

Ugne Gudelyte and her family in Kaunas have sheltered Khrystyna Bila’s family, and over the weekend helped Khrystyna Bila’s daughter, Nastia celebrate her second birthday – a glimpse of normalcy in a time when worlds have been turned upside down.  

At the same time the L'Arche Kaunas workshop house opened its doors to another family from Ukraine: a mother, father, grandmother and three children  - one, a son teenager with disabilities. “We’re trying to help his parents find a job,” Community Leader Gedas Malinauskas said.  “They are desperate not to be a burden to their hosts.”  

In Lviv, Ukraine a respite-care home normally offers relief to aging parents of people with disabilities. It is one normal point of connection but, in the middle of the war, it has been transformed into a shelter for guests from the East fleeing the war.   

The five workshops that the community in Lviv normally runs have been closed but the leaders now aim to open at least one of them - in the basement of a church where "if there is an air raid they don’t need to run anywhere", Basia Wojcik, L'Arche International Envoy for Ukraine and Lithuania said.  

“It’s really critical for core members to go out a couple of times a week at least,” Basia said. “After two years of Covid and now, this terrible war... it's been hard on them. Leaving home and coming to workshop at least every now and then, and spending time together with their friends will help everyone feel better in these difficult times.”  

Maintaining community in the middle of war is a challenge. For example, there is only one van only for more than 65 core members and their assistants in Lviv. A lack of internet connection, and even computers in many family homes, kept many isolated even before the war. 

In one hand, L’Arche staff and friends hold doors open to welcome anyone in need, especially people living with disabilities who may need shelter. With the other hand community leaders aim to hold together a sense of community, which is shaped, too by the pressing imperative to welcome strangers in crisis.   

“L'Arche helped me to learn how to open my heart, my home and how to welcome guests warmly and comfort them,” L’Arche Lithuania team member Ugne Gudelyte said of welcoming Khrystyna Bila and her children into her home.

Bila and her children say they feel safe and welcomed in Vilnius, even if part of her heart remains gripped by the strife and uncertainty in her home of Kyiv.   

“For us it is not clear now what will happen and to which direction to build our lives,” Khrystyna Bila said. “But I never imagined that people can be so good, so helpful, in another country.”  

(1st picture: Khrystyna Bila with her children, celebrating a birthday. 2nd picture: Hanna Volka captures a candid moment with her daughter in L'Arche's Kaunas community, Lithuania).

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Update – March 23, 2022


‘Bedding, food, transportation and more’
Donations meet pressing needs amidst war

It has been four weeks since war erupted in Ukraine, and L’Arche communities have swiftly adapted to meet the needs of people fleeing violence – especially those caring for loved ones living with disabilities.
 
“Imagine what it is like to leave everything behind and to try to provide care for someone with a disability as you flee,” Vice International Delegate Manca Kastelic said. She oversees L’Arche communities in Europe and the Middle East, which have banded together to offer support. 
 
As fighting escalated, L’Arche Ukraine communities in Lviv and Ternopil opened their doors to those fleeing war in the east. L’Arche homes in Poland and Lithuania, too opened their doors for those who made it beyond the border and need shelter. 
 
What has evolved is an improvised chain of support helping people with and without disabilities. Assistants, Board members, friends, and others from L’Arche Poland work together to offer shelter, meals, donated goods and meeting other needs. 
 
A L’Arche Poland van traverses the nearly three-hour drive from the closest L’Arche community to the Ukraine border with donated supplies for refugees. A similar L’Arche community van brings people living with disabilities from the Lviv L'Arche community in Ukraine who continue on to safety in the van from Poland as it returns home. 
 
“Our homes in Poland are filled with people who need shelter and care,” Manca said. “We are in need of mattresses, bedding, food, transportation and more.” 
 
“People came without anything, so we take care of everything: clothes, food, medical care,” L’Arche Lithuania Community Leader Ruta Domarkaite – Cerniauske said from Vilnius. “Friends of the community contribute with financial donations, emotional support, donations of things, toys. We would still be open to accepting people in the workshop premises, turning the office rooms into bedrooms.”
 
The U.N. reports around 20,000 Ukrainians have fled to Lithuania and more than 2 million refugees have sought shelter in Poland, where L’Arche communities have shifted and shared resources to accommodate a growing number of people. Bedding is a concern in Ukraine too: Poland sent along 50 sleeping bags to the Lviv community, which have all been used.
 
The Polish and other governments will be providing financial and other assistance to individuals and groups like L’Arche that are providing help but, so far, relief has yet to come.
 
The L'Arche Emergency Fund is intentionally unrestricted so that it can be most flexible in times of crisis, in Ukraine, Poland and other places where disaster and harm pose significant risks. 
 
"The Emergency Fund is helping us make a difference in the lives of families fleeing war, and especially those caring for people with disabilities," Manca said. “People with disabilities and their particular gifts are at the heart of what we try to live together in L’Arche. Today, in this dark hour for humanity, we reach out together with them and welcome those in need.”

(1st picture: The L’Arche Gdynia community in Poland has opened its doors to refugees from Ukraine. Nearly 20 people now sit at their common table for meals. 2nd picture: Friends of L’Arche Poland and their guests from Ukraine sought donations from customers at a grocery store)

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Update – March 15, 2022

L'Arche Communities in Poland offering support to people in Ukraine

All members of our communities in Lviv and Ternopil are ok for now, no one has left their home yet – and they are doing what they can; making bread in the middle of the night, making camouflage nets, sharing resources. The community in Lviv has now welcomed 10 people from eastern Ukraine including two mothers with children with intellectual disabilities. The air raids are getting more and more severe in the west of the country. They ask us to keep them in our prayers.

So far Poland has welcomed more than 1.7million people refugees from the war in Ukraine. The five L’Arche communities in Poland are working to welcome as many people as possible, particularly families with a child with intellectual disabilities. They are providing accommodation, food, medication, help with paperwork, accessing schools, finding jobs, finding psychological support, and sometime just someone to listen. The situation changes daily but right now:

  • L’Arche Poland is offering to transfer families of people with disabilities and their families from Lviv to Poland. They can bring back up to 8 passengers.
  • Sledziejowice has already welcomed 19 people (including 3 with disabilities) -it’s above their capacity.
  • Poznan has already welcomed a family. They have some space in a second house but it could be filled anytime.
  • Gdynia has welcomed a family with 3 children and provided the mum with work as community cook.
  • Warszawa has welcomed 3 people but they will leave soon, so there will be a place for a person with disability with a parent or guardian
  • Wroclaw has welcomed a family of 3 including a person with disability in a wheelchair and is running day care for up to 25 Ukrainian children.

The National Leader, Agnieszka Karolak says: “Many more people have also been welcomed by live-out assistants, board members and the friends of the community. Of course, we need financial, material and hands on help from our all their friends for this work. We are hoping for formal help from the government but there will be nothing for at least a few more weeks. We continue to work in partnership with other organizations to distribute and share resources and information.”

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Update – March 3, 2022

The inhabitants of Lviv and Ternopil try to do all they can for others

Basia Wójcik, International Envoy for L'Arche Ukraine, reports: “Both cities, Lviv and Ternopil, where our Communities are located, are relatively far from armed conflicts for now. The main goal of everyone today in Ukraine, the members of our Communities included, is to survive and to help others survive.

The inhabitants of both cities, including members of our Communities with and without intellectual disabilities, try to do all they can for the benefit of their country: first of all, they take in refugees, some for the entire duration of the war, others who are on their way further west, temporarily. Our community’s house in Lviv welcomed a group from Kharkov in the East several days ago already. Today (3rd March) children from eastern Ukraine who have lost their parents arrived to Ternopil. The city is organizing safe places for them to stay. Besides, many members of our Communities are engaged in baking bread and preparing other food products for long-term storage. Core Members from both communities are staying with their families at home. They are all safe for now.

Communities receive many expressions of support from a number of Federation communities and from individual members. L'Arche in Poland and in Lithuania have offered to welcome refugees from L'Arche in Ukraine. Cash collections are organized in many places.

The way the war develops fills our Ukrainian friends with great optimism. They are suffering greatly because of the victims, orphaned children and the destruction of their homeland. However, they are well organized, strongly motivated and full of energy. They look forward to the future with optimism, all the time hoping for a quick end to the war. They are grateful for all the gestures of solidarity and any help they can get.”

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Update – February 28, 2022

Basia Wójcik, International Envoy, reports: “So far, neither Lviv nor Ternopil – where our communities are based – have been attacked, all are safe. All citizens, including our community members, have stopped going to work. This means our communities – which only provide daytime projects – do not function any longer either. People sit at home, watching news and praying. The 2 Community Leaders try to organize on-line meetings but few people have computers and the internet is not reliable any longer either. Normal functioning in the cities has stopped. Public transport is limited. Only grocery shops and pharmacies are open. There is a shortage of bread in Lviv, but other kinds of food are still available. People also have supplies at home.  From time to time an alarm siren calls people to go to their shelters and basements. Everyone is urged to turn out the lights when it gets darker. Universal conscription into the army has been announced: no men between 18 and 60 can leave the country.”

L’Arche Kovcheh (Lviv, Ukraine) welcomed 6 refugees from Eastern Ukraine. L’Arche communities in Lithuania and Poland have also offered a place of welcome for members of Ukraine. A sign of solidarity among our communities!

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Published – February 23rd, 2022

Today, the eyes of the whole world are on Ukraine.

Basia Wójcik, International Envoy, writes: “Our two Communities - the older and better known L'Arche Kovcheh in Lviv and the younger L'Arche Project in Ternopil are located in the west of the country. For the time being, everyone is safe, although very concerned about the situation. Especially as their neighbours, relatives and friends have been fighting and dying on the front line for the past years. Visiting the Communities, I have witnessed funerals, exhibitions of photographs of fallen young men, and seen women weaving nets to camouflage the army. At present, the spectre of war is even more terrifying.

Community people are full of concern but trying to lead normal lives. Here is what Olesia, the Leader of L’Arche Kovcheh in Lviv says: ‘I seem to live in 2 realities when life seems to go on, as usual, work-meetings-laughter-friends, and despite this constant feeling of anxiety/preparation in case of lack of water, light, and internet and checking the news every minute. (...) We are making grand plans for the future, despite the fact that today everything looks so fragile, and it is difficult to say what will happen tomorrow.’ 

Today Communities receive many signals of support, encouragement, signs of solidarity and questions on how to help. They may not be able to answer all the messages. However, they are very grateful for are all the expressions of remembrance and fraternity. 

Above all, L’Arche Ukraine asks all the Communities across the Federation to pray for them for their country and for peace.   

You can follow both Communities on Facebook:

 L’Arche Kovcheh and Projet de L’Arche à Ternopil