Daily life in Dim Ditey (UKRAINE)

By: Antonia, Mª Jesús y María
Congregation of St. Dominic in Ukraine

By way of introduction

In 1997, the Congregation of St. Dominic, Granada, Spain, belonging to the Dominican family arrived in Ukraine with the aim of opening the mission “Mary Mother of God”. This was our answer to the call of the Master General of the Order, asking to take care of all these Slavic peoples, considering the conditions in which those countries were left by Communism, depriving them of all forms of freedom, even religious freedom, and of so many human values. We wanted to open the “first Catholic school” in the country, but this was not possible.

We studied the environment in which the children lived: kids abandoned in the streets, families lacking basic resources for survival, children whose health was affected by the Chernobyl catastrophe… and therefore we opened the CHILDREN’S HOUSE, DIM DITEY in 2001. This ecumenical center started with 2 children. Then others came and it was filled with laughter and faith. Orthodox, Catholics, Roman and Greek Catholics, Protestants of different confessions and even non-believers bring their children here because they say they feel “something I can’t say, but that gives peace”. We have had more than 200, but with space limited by the pandemic, we are left with about 140 with irregular attendance depending on COVID waves. There are many children on the waiting list, hoping that we call them if numbers go down. You may ask questions about us and our situation, and we will try to answer them as a family.

How are you? Are you afraid of this possible Russian ‘invasion’?

We are fine. We have been living the ups and downs of this war that has been going on for 8 years and in which we have never been closer to “no man’s land, or the line of war” as it is called, than right now. This line has been expanding or shrinking, especially in the early years, and it has been more or less stable for some time. We are now about 600 km away from it.

Little by little we learned to notice the manipulations of the new war, this hybrid war, with exaggerated information or disinformation during other long periods, according to the interest of the “war lords”. The same happened in 2014 in Maidan, or in the annexation of Crimea in 2016, or in the destabilization of borders in Lugansk and Donest. Therefore, we learned to discern truths in the midst of lies and to walk more on the paths of resilience rather than panic, with prudent attitudes. And no, we are not afraid. In these long and stalled wars, Jesus’ response to those who tell him that Herod is looking for him to kill him is enlightening: “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem.” (Lk, 13:32-33). So today and tomorrow… let us do his work. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Living each day with zeal and in duty, our foundress Teresa Titos used to say: “Take things calmly because now is not the time to die and each one is needed in her place”. And they were living the period of the dissolution of Congregations and when the Dominicans were expelled from Granada.

How is the population with whom you share your life?

As I already mentioned, throughout these 8 years, at certain time we have only been “news”. Not much has been said about the large displacements, especially to Kharkiv and Kiev, fleeing the war, nor about the problems of the most vulnerable population: the elderly at crossfire points when collecting their pension, in the places where bridges have not been rebuilt… Nor about children and young people trapped in a senseless situation. Many of them are lost or estranged from their families, others are left orphans. The hopeless situation of people in the coastal strip of Mariupol was not mentioned, nor businesses closing down, nor about the wave of migrants that used to be adults, who are now becoming increasingly younger, with the risk it entails for young people who are almost teenagers. Much has been done by Caritas, the Red Cross, the Legion of Mary and many anonymous people, such as families from our center who have adopted children, or almost teenagers who, being unable to find a job, seek to help their families by going to war. The spiritual fiber of this people is strong and resistant, like plants and flowers, which even under the snow, give off their warmth thus creating their own microclimate. When you least expect it, stems and flowers break the snow. They have the courage to go out to the squares, this week to give thanks to the people and towns who support them in their desire to be free, to belong to a group of free nations as they consider the EU, to have people protecting them and helping them not to return to the subjugation of the Communist regime and to continue their daily work, in the works of those who speak a little Spanish “No hay que panicar, podremos con esto” (We don’t have to panic, we can handle this).

Tell us a little bit about the project you are working on and if you can continue to live it in peace.

In Dim Ditey we work as normal, with the usual difficulties caused by war and COVID, in our daily commitment towards families, children and young people. We foster the “child-family” relationship, in order to avoid that poverty, deterioration of parental relationships, difficulties of single mothers, may put them at risk. It is an open center of first evangelization, we have already mentioned different Christian confessions, and some Muslims and Jews. There are 30 Catholics out of a total of 140 children.

Our educational framework is integral education, rooted in the Gospel. We always have education in human-Christian values and theater courses. According to teachers’ training, we also have sports, handicrafts, painting, drawing, music, singing, dancing. Children come every day to Dim Ditey after the official school hours, from 16-18 and on Saturdays from 10 am to 1 pm. When we finish, before going home, they have a snack.

We pay special attention to the family, revaluing the role of the “father”, with educational talks and times of prayer with the fathers. These opportunities are now missed since the different waves of covid did not allow us to carry them out. Christmas mass had to be done 5 times. Children performed the first chapters of Matthew and Luke in Spanish and Ukrainian. In each scene, we sang an allusive carol, and on the screen, we put the lyrics in both languages. The performance ended with a prayer said by the children and the Christmas presents that here are brought by St. Nicholas, who was Bishop of Kiev, among the big stars. It was a beautiful celebration, although with fewer parents than at other times because there is a lot of COVID. We had required to attend with the vaccination certificate, and although a good portion of the population has been vaccinated, they are very reluctant to vaccines, because children’s vaccines have caused many deaths, since not everywhere there is the infrastructure to preserve the cold chain.

These last few weeks have been somehow hectic, due to the requests from different TV and radio stations, which you already know, even though our agenda included the meetings for the work of the Synod. We have tried to respond, as best as we could, to everyone. It is not by chance that our slogan for this year is: Dare to persevere.

Three Dominican sisters and one Oblate, four Catholic teachers, one Greek Catholic, three Orthodox and one Protestant sister who was unable to attend due to Covid, participated in the synod meetings. Nationalities: 8 Ukrainians, 2 Ecuadorians and 3 Spanish.

It has been an immense joy to share the Word of God, His calls that He makes to us and those that we receive from each other, in order to begin a real journey with God. We are happy to share our faith and to learn from each other the real way to live it. For all of us, language is a difficulty. For us foreigners it is Ukrainian and for the Ukrainian teachers, it is Spanish, although this does not prevent us from communicating, the language of love is always understood and we are helped by the translators who know both languages. The pandemic is also perceived here due to children’s irregular attendance and the reduced number of meetings with the families since formation and meetings encourage us and help us all.

During these meetings, it was a joy for the soul to notice how Jesus calls us to walk with Him, or to begin a journey, and to live in friendship and hope. In the children, we have seen a first encounter with Jesus, the growth in mutual respect, companionship and friendship, the change and integration of those who have come from the war, their joy, and the sense of responsibility and order of all in these recent times. We want to continue with the family atmosphere by supporting ourselves in hope, learning how to approach families and children with love, understanding and joy, since what unites us is the love of God.

What do you ask of those of us who are here?

That you pray with us for these people who have suffered and suffer so much, seeking freedom, and harassed by war lords, neighbors and others, who dehumanize themselves seeking to make a business out of war, while forgetting that we are all human beings.  May we pray together for the parents of the children who are at war, on the frontline, as it is familiarly called; for the same teenagers that they may find a job when they leave the center; for so many young people who, not finding it, enlist as volunteers, to bring home a war salary, in order to help their families; for the old retired people who live on the frontline and have to cross icy bridges and sometimes walk for more than a kilometer, in order to cross no man’s land to reach the Ukrainian side, to get a pension of about 100 euros… For the children who are still there and who suffer from the bombing and the terrible mines that mutilate…

We all suffer for them, but we live in cautious normality and very well cared for by our ambassador, who among other things was educated in Valladolid, by the Dominican Sisters. The consequences reach us, and some of us live them as a rebound, but the truth is that Providence is guiding our lives and touching us in such a way that we do not even know what to say.

Do you remember what Peter said in the Acts: “I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams”? We are sharing these realities with those we did not think of: the Church in Need, the 13 tv program Persecuted but not forgotten, COPE in the lantern, the afternoon, the evening, the night, Radio Maria… and the response has been so generous, that we who only had money left to continue the work until June always trusting in Saint Joseph, our administrator, we can now think of a new boiler, for which we are already making arrangements. Not even in our wildest dreams, could we think that our old bones, aged from 71 to 81 years, would receive the help of an elevator, for which we have already looked for the place and we are making the required arrangements.

It has been a few weeks of growing excitement. On the one hand, seeing in worst case scenario, how could we host people in our house or being hosted in another community living on the border with Poland; on the other hand receiving encouraging calls from so many generous and close people, family friends and people interested in the mission, from others like Iberdrola, Naturgy, MP elevators, our dear Ramon of Duo Dinàmico, others from strangers and even from Queen Sofia, who called Angel Esposito as she wanted to collaborate with our mission work. There have been moments of so much emotion, that we were stunned when we prayed, and we had to remain silent, letting our hearts calm down and find their own beat with God.

We do not know what will come out of all this. We usually need help to feed the children, for light and heating, financial support, especially for scholarships for the girls, and help for rare diseases, which are often consequences of Chernobyl, as we are about 100, 120 km away from the accident site. We are now helping a 2-year-old girl who has a rare disease similar to ALS, but she is improving and growing, although she still has to be fed through a tube, but she can breathe on her own for some hours.

What we really “dream” is that there will be young girls who will join our dreams of Dominican life, with whom the “Cumans” for whom St. Dominic left his beard, can continue receiving the message of Jesus.

From these lands of the Cumans, dreamed by our Father, we send you a big hug..

Interview taken from: ACCIÓN VERAPAZ

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