In Rava-Ruska, Ukraine, a recently renovated monastery accommodates foster families fleeing the war
By Peter Gedicks
The Knights of Columbus holds caring for the most vulnerable as a vital part of its mission. In keeping with this vision, the Order has collaborated with the international Catholic charitable organization Caritas to provide a home for foster families in a monastery in Rava-Ruska, a city in western Ukraine.
The 14th-century Franciscan monastery, renovated by the Archdiocese of Lviv with support from the Order’s Ukraine Solidarity Fund, began sheltering displaced persons very soon after the Russian invasion Feb. 24, 2022. Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly visited in April 2022, spending time with the refugees there and delivering care packages from Knights in Poland.
Three foster families with a total of 36 children now live in the monastery, with room for even more. Each family has its own living quarters, equipped with a private kitchen, living room and several bedrooms and bathrooms. The ground floor is filled with inviting common spaces, where the community holds parties, and the basement-turned-clubhouse is a cozy room full of toys and games such as pingpong and foosball. Outside, a cobblestone road is lined with benches, bushes and garden beds. Children’s bikes lie around the newly paved area.
Tatiana, a mother of seven foster children, came to Rava-Ruska from Vasylivka, in the Zaporizhzhia region of southeastern Ukraine. Vasylivka was invaded by the Russian army in the early days of the war, and has been occupied ever since. With no savings and nowhere to go, finding a safe place for her entire family was very difficult. But after she came across the Caritas home for foster families, Tatiana’s situation finally changed.
“We have a good life here,” she said. “Since moving in, we no longer worry about what will happen tomorrow. We have food to eat, and live in comfortable and cozy conditions; the children go to school, and we have medical care — everything is taken care of.”
The children have experienced a new sense of safety and companionship since moving in. “I’ve found many new friends here,” said 15-year-old Anna. “It’s great that there are always people to hang out with.”
Power outages, which have been a common occurrence since the invasion, have not deterred the sense of community. “When the lights are turned off,” Ann said, “we can go to other families to play together or just talk.”
The community also aims to create an environment that encourages spiritual development. For Tatiana and her family, faith is of the utmost importance.
“I raise my children by leading them to God with love,” Tatiana said. “From the earliest of ages, they were immersed in the word of God and formed by its values. Now, my children are growing up in their faith and taking the initiative to live out their faith on their own. Seeing my children making the faith their own brings me great joy.”
As attacks from Russia have destroyed houses across Ukraine, many families have been left without the peace a home can bring. In Rava-Ruska, however, families find more than a temporary shelter, explained Father Andrii Pekanec, who oversees the project.
The word for home in Ukrainian is dem, derived from the Latin word domus. In large letters above the building’s front door is the acronym “DOM,” a carryover from its time as a monastery. “DOM stands for Deo Optimus Maximus,” said Father Andrii. “But now, a new meaning has been added: home.”
To learn more about the Order’s Ukraine Solidarity Fund and associated efforts, visit kofc.org/ukraine.
PETER GEDICKS writes from Kraków, Poland.