Ukrainian Knights launch initiative to pray with and for the relatives of fallen soldiers
By Mateusz Ziomber
Death has become a frequent guest in Ukraine since the Russian invasion, visiting people of all ages, backgrounds and social standings. Trauma, grief and loss have become a collective experience that will shape the country’s future.
“In Ukraine nowadays there are few people who haven’t lost someone — father, husband, son, relative or friend,” said Ukraine State Deputy Youriy Maletskiy. According to a survey conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, 63% of Ukrainians have lost relatives or close friends in the current phase of this conflict.
Caring for widows and orphans was extremely important to Blessed Michael McGivney, who made it one of the pillars of the Knights’ identity and vocation. The mission has strong evangelical foundations: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (Jas 1:27).
In keeping with that mission, Ukrainian Knights are reaching out to people whose loved ones have died, supporting them mentally as well as physically.
“When we were distributing humanitarian aid in parishes to families who have lost their relatives, people came to us who wanted nothing more than to talk to someone,” Maletskiy explained. “When we asked why they didn’t take food boxes, they answered that they didn’t need them, they just wanted to talk and be with someone who could understand them without too many explanations. So the idea was born to start a program of psychological support.”
Vasyl Zvarych, grand knight of St. John Bosco Council 16846 in Lviv, together with District Deputy Mykhailo Chipak, first invited widows and parents of the fallen for a prayer group this spring.
“People experiencing loss and grief need help, need to be supported spiritually and psychologically,” emphasized Zvarych. “It’s about communication in a circle of friends, other families and Knights. There is a need for spiritual communication with the families of fallen soldiers, so that they are not left alone.”
The Knights did not start with a formal, developed agenda. They simply wanted to contact people, hear them out and listen to their needs.
The initial meeting took place March 12 in Lviv.
“During the very first meeting, we prayed the rosary in church,” said Nadia, one of the participants. “We needed it because prayer unites grieving families. The rosary united us all. It is important because we can be with each other and talk about our pains and problems.”
Each participant brings her own story, his own pain. Even — or especially — the children.
“It was very difficult when my husband — a father of eight children — died. It was emotionally devastating for the kids,” shared Ivanna, a widow who has taken part in the Knights’ program. “After participating in those meetings, I noticed that my children changed, became more open and responsive. They somehow came to realize that life does not end with this tragedy.”
Soon after, other K of C councils — in Fastiv, Kyiv and Ivano-Frankivsk — started organizing similar gatherings. The aim was simple: to bring people together on a monthly basis, offering them opportunities to meet, pray and talk with a priest. At the same time, Knights can ask them about their needs, including their material needs.
Participation isn’t formalized, and everyone is welcome in keeping with the Order’s long tradition.
By the third meeting in Lviv, participating families suggested that they were interested in a longer activity. The Knights, together with volunteers, came up with an idea: a pilgrimage to the Krekhiv Monastery. Dating to the 17th century, the monastic center is a place of special significance for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, known for its miraculous icon of the Mother of God.
About 50 people made the pilgrimage July 16, accompanied by Knights from Council 16846. Even parents of fallen soldiers, many of them elderly, took up the challenge to travel to the monastery, about 20 miles outside of Lviv — seeing it as an occasion for prayer and sacrifice offered for the souls of their children.
A tragedy like the death of loved one often puts a person’s faith to the test. But it is also a test of faith for other people, as an opportunity to “weep with those who weep” (Rom 10:15) and carry each other’s burdens, emphasized Father Roman Bodnar, a priest leading a pilgrimage.
“It is important that we are close to them, that we give them time; that we are present, we listen and ensure that they don’t feel abandoned,” he said. “They meet other suffering people, who lost their husbands, sons and daughters in war. They stop feeling isolated, as others are carrying the same cross.”
To learn more about Order’s work in Ukraine and ways in which you can help, visit kofc.org/ukraine.
MATEUSZ ZIOMBER writes from Krákow, Poland.