Australians have poured out their hearts and wallets to help people who are suffering in Ukraine or fleeing the war-torn country, raising $1.5 million dollars in the first two weeks for Caritas Australia’s dedicated emergency appeal.
After eight years, the armed conflict with Russia in eastern Ukraine has escalated into a full-blown war, triggering Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since World War II.
Caritas Australia, part of the Church’s international aid and development agency, is working with Caritas Ukraine and its local partners to provide displaced families within Ukraine and in neighbouring countries with emergency food, water, shelter and psychological support.
Caritas chief executive officer Kirsty Robertson said she believed people are being spurred by the heartbreaking stories and images on TV and social media to offer aid.
“In our experience, people are extremely generous at times of crisis, and this time we are seeing families having to cooperate and seek safety in neighbouring countries, and people in Australia have once again responded to that, with compassion and a desire to do more to help,” she said.
“I think that’s one of the beautiful things about Caritas Australia is it gives that vehicle for Australians to be able to do some good throughout the world.”
“The people who can give are being extremely generous. There are also people who have been personally affected by both COVID and the floods who actually are no longer able to give, we often get calls from them at Caritas Australia telling us they are still remembering us and our work in their prayers.
“But I think our experience of COVID, and of the recent floods in Queensland and New South Wales, has meant that we’re a little bit more acutely aware of what it feels like to experience acute pain, suffering and hardship.
“That brings us a little bit closer together, perhaps, through that concept of human suffering to understand what others are going through.”
With an estimated two million people fleeing to safety in neighbouring countries, and another 12 million reportedly in need of assistance, Ms Robertson said the war is prompting the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.
“We are hearing from Caritas Ukraine that it is women and children who are on the move, which as you can imagine brings a whole other layer of concern around violence, particularly around sexual violence that those types of people might experience when they are not able to surround themselves with the usual protections and supports,” she said.
“So we’re working with the Caritas network agencies to provide support to Ukrainian refugees, who’ve fled to bordering countries but also with communities who are moving within Ukraine, often to stay with family members who live in safer areas.
“Ukraine already had quite a serious water crisis before this war began, issues with inadequate fresh drinking water, a lack of sanitation and hygiene, and so we are also seeing that being exacerbated at the moment.”
Australia’s bishops have thrown their support behind the emergency appeal, including Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, who has asked all parishes in the Archdiocese to pray for the end of the conflict and give generously to Caritas Australia.
The charity is also running its traditional Lenten Project Compassion appeal to support community development projects throughout the world.
The theme this year is For All Future Generations.