Ukraine’s powerful weapon: a humane approach. Priest of Novooleksandrivska hromada evacuates hundreds

Since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, thousands of civilians were killed. As of this writing, 161 of them are children. The highest value to the civilized world is human life. Russia’s aim is to kill Ukrainians. For families with multiple kids, people with disabilities, older adults, and orphans it is especially difficult to leave the hotspots. Adoptive parents took little Adam to the police station, and disappeared. Kostyk miraculously escaped the shelling, and hugged his mum after a long time apart. These are some of the stories posted on social media by priest and civil society actor Andriy Pinchuk from Dnipropetrovsk region. Andriy and his brave team of Novooleksandrivska hromadai evacuated 2,700 civilians from Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, and Kherson regions and accommodated them in a shelter.

Ukraine’s unity inspires Europeans

I met Andriy Pinchuk a few years ago while he was a starosta. He solved water supply and garbage problems in the starosta district. Other hromadas learnt from his successful experience with local self-government. He was a character in the reality TV show “Hromada for a Million: Swap of Specialists” broadcast nationally. He was called an “apostle of decentralization.” He is not afraid of complex discussions. His community respects him. People remember him sheltering internally displaced in 2014, and dealing with the consequences of a hurricane in 2015.       

Andriy organized three teams: to evacuate civilians from hotspots, to evacuate them further to Western Ukraine or abroad, and to take care of the evacuees in the shelter. Local teacher and hospital clowns volunteer in the shelter. The team that evacuates people from hotspots also brings in humanitarian aid.

“In the first two days, people were confused. On the third day, they began to flee from areas where fighting raged. There were too many refugees. They needed shelter and food. Together with the Novooleksandrivska hromada we decided to open a shelter in a local school. The charity fund ‘Pomogaem’ (We Help), of which I am a supervisory board member set up the place,” Andriy Pinchuk said. 

The war demonstrated Ukrainians’ unity and their ability to quickly and efficiently connect with each other. This response inspires and impresses the world. The reform of local self-government taught Ukrainians a lesson of responsibility, Andriy is convinced. New leaders emerged, and Russia was not able to seize Ukraine in 72 hours. Ukrainians demonstrate unity and help each other. Everyone is fighting a battle wherever they are. Citizens of the hromada volunteer to help the shelter. Since 2014, civic engagement expanded.   

“Together with Andriy Pinchuk we created a shelter,” said head of the Novooleksandrivska hromada of Dnipropetrovsk region Oleksandr Vizir. “We work with vulnerable groups as the war ravages Ukraine. Hromada provides the premises and pays wages to some of the personnel. There’s a cafeteria and a medical aid station. A kindergarten in the hromada bakes bread and pastry for our guests. The residents of the hromada and beyond bring clothes and food, and offer their help,” Oleksandr Visir said. 

Andriy Pinchuk evacuated nine orphan babies from an orphanage in a hotspot, some are just five months old, the head of the Novooleksandrivska hromada said. While the Office of Children’s Issues was dealing with procedures, local residents hosted the babies in their families. The babies are temporarily with the host families. After the war, the office will find a permanent place for them.

The school gym has become a bedroom for those who fled war

“We evacuated people who can’t move, as they cried, we cried with them”

In the first days of Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine, Andriy Pinchuk said on social media that he would need a bus for evacuation of vulnerable groups. Dozens of people responded offering help and money. SOS Children’s Village Ukraine charitable organization bought one of the buses. Most of the donations come from abroad including France, Israel, the U.S., the Netherlands, and Norway. Individuals and religious communities donate money. Donations support evacuation efforts from areas where fighting rages. Andriy often goes with evacuation convoys. He witnessed dozens of stories as a humane approach took over. “We evacuated in a truck a paralyzed woman who stayed alone for three weeks. She couldn’t address toileting needs for days. When we arrived in a shelter, she said she had not eaten for five days. We recently evacuated 13 people who can’t move to Ivano-Frankivsk region. They did not hide their tears, and we cried with them,” the priest said.      

It is most difficult when you can’t help, and people say you’re their last hope, Andriy Pinchuk says.

“A mother of three children recently called me asking to evacuate them. Two of the children have disability and use a wheelchair. Their house survived shelling, and the village is destroyed. We promised to help, but then we realized that we could not get there. We had to tell her honestly. We cannot take the risks as we are a target for the occupation troops. Recently, our convoy came under shelling. Safety of the evacuees, our drivers and navigation staff is important. As police escorted our convoy, there were no casualties,” Andriy Pinchuk said.   

Russian occupants must follow the Russian warship (referring to a famous meme – edit.), Pinchuk says. If negotiations stall, there are other mechanisms to reach out to.

“Ukraine should not agree to peace deal at any cost. We should aim for victory at any cost. A peace deal today would almost certainly lead to Russia’s war tomorrow. If I could appeal to the European community, I would ask them to close the sky over Ukraine, and give us not only defensive, but also offensive weapons, so that we could free the occupied territories and defeat the enemy,” Andriy Pinchuk said.

This is how children evacuated from Ukraine are met in Portugal

Someone who has saved more than a thousand lives is a Righteous individual to me, I say to Andriy. He smiles and disagrees. That is an exaggeration, he says. I am a common Ukrainian, like anybody else, I do what I can. Some help the refugees, others volunteer and save lives without being noticed.

Ukraine and Europe are the territory of the Righteous, the priest said. They help each other. Everyone is a warrior fighting their own fight. That gives us hope that we will overcome every obstacle and will win.

Oksana Yakunina, Ukraine Crisis Media Center