Europe’s churches’ open arms to Ukrainians in 2022

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Europe’s churches’ open arms to Ukrainians in 2022

In a year defined by the war in Ukraine, how have Europe’s churches sought to provide support to the refugees fleeing Putin’s invasion?

When historians look back on the year 2022, one particular event will stand out as having had the most far-reaching consequences on European affairs – the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Launched on 24 February, the invasion sparked a mass exodus of refugees, with nearly 7.6 million having left by October 2022.[1]

This movement of people required a response from organisations and citizens across European societies, with churches of all denominations being no exception. Therefore, as 2023 begins, it is worth reflecting upon the different roles played by churches in supporting and advocating for Ukrainians fleeing the war.

Emergency support: the Church on the frontline

As Ukranians processed the shock of the Russian invasion, Christian charities in the nation were among those reaffirming their resolve to stand and protect their nation. In an article in the Catholic magazine the Tablet, Fr Vitaly Nomak CM, of a Catholic charity dedicated to supporting homeless people, Depaul Ukraine, said that his organisation was committed to remaining in the city of Odessa. He explained that the organisation “would not leave until we have no other choice.”[2]

However, for many other Ukrainians, in many cases women and children, the decision was taken to flee to neighbouring nations. The largest number fled to Poland, with a total of 5.5 million Ukrainians entering the country in 2022, with particularly shocking scenes recorded in the early days of the invasion.[3] [4]

This unexpected influx required a full-scale response by Polish society and community groups, with Christianity playing an important role in motivating the support of many citizens. An article published on February 28 by Crux included testimonies from various Polish volunteers who had arrived at the border to help refugees and referenced their faith as a motivation. Meanwhile, Caritas Poland secured 3,000 beds for refugees, and the Polish branch of the Knights of Columbus organised medical supplies, sleeping bags, and other essentials to be sent over the border to the Ukrainian city of Lviv.[5]

Whilst Poland received the largest number of refugees, other bordering nations such as Romania also sought to provide refuge for Ukrainians fleeing the invasion. Whereas Poland is a country with a large Catholic majority, in Romania, Ukrainians were welcomed by members of the Orthodox faith who, like in Ukraine, are in the majority. A June 28 article looked back on the work done by the Putna Orthodox monastery to support refugees during March, including offering accommodation for 100 people within the monastery’s grounds. Food packages were also handed out by priests at a hospitality tent in the town of Siret.[6]

Helping to find a permanent home

Therefore, it is clear that Christians and churches on the frontlines of the refugee crisis helped to provide emergency support to those fleeing the invasion. As the year progressed, some refugees sought to find a permanent home in Western Europe, from which they could rebuild their lives.

A November 2022 article in The Church News recounted how, on a visit to Germany, the American Latter-day Saints Church leader Jeffrey Roy Holland met with Ukrainians of the faith who had fled their home nation. The Latter-day Saints in fact helped more than 1,000 Ukrainians be placed with member families across Western Europe, as well as having contributed directly to non-denominational emergency response groups.[7]

Meanwhile, in other cases, churches have sought to provide support to Ukrainians navigating the complex bureaucratic systems which have been put in place to organise their entry into many Western European countries. In a story published on the Church of England’s official website, they explain how since March, the Diocese of Herefordshire has helped to find homes for around 250 Ukrainians, with a focus on “providing practical information, advice and getting access to essential services.” In doing this, the Church has collaborated directly with nonreligious civil society groups to “make our Ukrainian guests feel welcome in the country.”[8]

This support has not only come from dioceses, but also Christian NGOs, such as in the case of the Christian Associations of Italian Workers (ACLI) in Rome. A July article in InfoMigrants described how the ACLI had opened an office at the Basilica of Santa Sofia, the national church of Ukrainians in the Italian capital, in order to help refugees. The organisation has guaranteed that the office can provide “professional, qualified expertise” to refugees, as well as work in collaboration with the municipal administration of Rome and other associations to aid refugees in the city.[9]

Open arms for migrants

As explored in articles published by EARS in the past, over the last decade, different denominations of European Christianity have defended the rights of migrants reaching the continent. In many of these cases, the migrants have fled insecurity in the Middle East and Africa, and the call from churches for empathy for them has clashed with that of right-wing political parties.

However, in 2022, with the crisis triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, churches across Europe have adapted their focus, with the sudden need to provide emergency support and to help with longer-term resettlement. This has underlined the importance of the role that the church can play in a wider community response that helps add direct support alongside the work of the state and non-religious NGOs. Furthermore, given that many of the most supportive churches are not of the same denomination as the refugees they are helping, it reaffirms that churches are open to supporting all people, not just those that belong to their congregations.

Freddie Scott

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[1] Ukrainian refugees: Challenges in a welcoming Europe

[2] Catholic charities appeal for funds to help Ukraine

[3] Visit Ukraine – The number of Ukrainians who left for Poland exceeded 5 million people

[4] Miles-long lines, the kindness of strangers, an uncertain future: Scenes from the Ukraine-Poland border

[5] Polish Church opens doors for Ukrainian refugees | Crux

[6] Orthodox monks welcome Ukrainian refugees to their medieval monastery

[7] Elder and Sister Holland promise Ukrainian refugees in Germany: ‘Things are going to be all right’

[8] Churches providing support for Ukrainian refugees | The Church of England

[9] Office opens in Rome to help refugees from Ukraine – InfoMigrants