by Sarah Baldwin, Media Consultant, Depaul International
Kharkiv is the second-largest city and municipality in Ukraine.
Located in the northeast of the country, it is the largest city of the historic Slobozhanshchyna region and a major target of the Ukraine offensive. The city was designated a “Hero City of Ukraine” on 6 March 2022. According to the Mayor of Kharkiv, Terekhov, there has not been a single day without strikes since the start of the invasion on 24 February.
I caught up with Father Vitaliy Novak CM, Chair of Trustees at Depaul Ukraine at 4pm on a Wednesday afternoon, as he loaded the truck ready to depart further south. As we spoke, Russian forces had begun an offensive across the Donbas, with heavy fighting continuing in Kharkiv.
On our call I could hear the clatter of the truck loading, children playing near him and exchanges in Ukrainian as lists were checked.
Father Vitaliy has remained in Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict, working with a team to transport aid from West Ukraine to Kyiv, Odesa and Kharkiv, as well as supporting our shelters, which are feeding thousands of people every week.
I grabbed 5 minutes with him before he set off…
Hi Father. Are you safe to talk? Where are you and what are you up to?
Vitaliy: Yes it is fine to talk. We are in Kharkiv. We are loading the humanitarian aid onto the truck. It is going south, further towards the frontline, we are setting off tomorrow.
How are you?
Vitaliy: I am still talking to you, so I am still here! But many of our friends have died.
It’s unfathomable. What is sustaining you during this time?
Vitaliy: What keeps me going? If you could see it… I must help all of these people – I cannot imagine any other way than to stay here and act. As long as I am still standing, I will help people.
Tell me what you are seeing in Kharkiv at the moment
Vitaliy: Some parts of Kharkiv are like Mariupol.. destroyed… some parts are still alive. The forces have already activated, the offensive has started. Last night numerous buildings were hit. Even now as I speak to you, somewhere is being bombed.
We can’t even imagine what you are going through. What is daily life like in Kharkiv?
Vitaliy: It is 56 days into the war and every day it’s the same – shootings, bombings. There are those who have adapted to the war, those who can help others, and then those who have not survived. Every day we are burying people, every day there are deaths, but there also births.
What do people need the most at the moment?
Vitaliy: Food and medicine. Food is not available to buy. And even if it is available, it’s very expensive. Medicine is key, we have been supporting hospitals but the need keeps growing. The poor people are poorer than they ever were – double or triple as poor. It’s hard to imagine, but no one is going to work. It’s a very strange situation. Can you imagine, no one can afford anything, and prices are so high?
How is your work with Depaul going?
Vitaliy: We are working all the time. We are running our shelters in Kharkiv and Odesa, our homeless volunteers are working night and day. We have our projects on the streets, and we are taking food into the prisons too. We are now feeding thousands of people per week in our area of Kharkiv alone, with the aid that is coming from Depaul International and Depaul Slovakia.
Before the war we were feeding just 150 people a week.
Captions: Left: Father Vitaliy Novak with colleagues at warehouse in Slovakia, Right: Medical supplies arrive at Kharkiv hospital
Every day more and more people come to our services and ask for help – it feels like each time you give out aid, more people come who need it. The need is never ending. I cannot even explain – wherever you travel, you see the same thing – thousands of people in the same situation –in Kyiv, Odesa, Transcarpathia, we see the same everywhere you go, people running away, people fleeing, trying to survive.
What can we do to support you more?
Vitaliy: We need prayer. And if people still want to help us with the humanitarian aid – we would welcome it. There are trucks coming constantly, it’s amazing, but it is still not enough to respond to the sheer scale of need. Sarah I must go – we need to load up.
Thanks for taking the time – we are with you and wishing you all the best Father. We will talk again soon
To support our work in Ukraine please go to our Depaul Ukraine Emergency Appeal page.