The last 2 months have been very intense in Khmelnitsky. Already at the beginning of the war, the local retreat house run by Jesuits was turned into a stopping point for refugees. Up to 70 new people arrived every day and were offered a hot meal and rooms with fresh bedding. After one or two nights, these people would move on towards the west. All this required great organisational effort and efficient administration. The work took place in the uncertainty of war and amidst the successively sounding alarms of incoming rockets. The alarms were particularly acute as they disorganised moments of sleep – the only moment of rest during the day.
About three weeks after the outbreak of war, the situation changed. Fewer people began to arrive at the house and, in addition, work could already proceed at a more leisurely pace, as a method of functioning the house was developed. Soon humanitarian corridors were opened and many people from Mariupol came to Khmelnitsky. These people had experienced the horrors of war particularly severely and needed to find a safe place where they could finally stay. Some of them decided to go further afield, to western Ukraine; many, however, decided to stay in Khmelnitsky. Unfortunately, the vacant flats were quickly rented out, often at inflated prices. However, as Fr Przepeluk, director of the retreat house, adds:
There were also many situations of solidarity between people. For example, a family came to our house and asked to stay for a few nights in the hope of finding a flat for themselves during that time. There was another family staying at the house, who had just managed to find accommodation: as soon as they found out about the situation of the first family, they offered to move in together under the same roof, as the flat had three rooms.
In this situation, the Jesuit house in Khmelnitsky began to accept refugees for a longer period of time. In last days there was created common room, where refugees can watch TV, get together for conversation or play board games. A Polish language course has also been organized. The people staying at the house are also keen to get involved in various works around the house’s upkeep.
Last time was very special as the Easter was celebrated. The residents got involved in the liturgy, which was preceded by a short catechesis introducing each of the days of the Triduum. The celebrations culminated in a festive Easter dinner. The festive dishes were a pleasant surprise, especially as the residents had become accustomed to simpler food. But even more important was the amazing atmosphere that accompanied this event.
The refugee house in Khmelnitsky is run thanks to the commitment of a group of volunteers from the local academic ministry and parish. In the last two months it has already received more than 1000 people. The situation is calmer now than it was in the early days of the war, as methods have been developed, and as taking people in for longer periods allows for more stability. However, it is still a work going on in wartime conditions, and reports from the front suggest that more people may soon arrive in the area of Khmelnitsky.