(OSV News) – While desperation mounts in Ukraine amid more than 480 days of war – and in the aftermath of the destruction of a dam that caused the flooding of dozens of towns in the south of the country – Cardinal Konrad Krajewski traveled to the country June 22 for the sixth time “to assist those in need.”
“My trip in the name of the pope places the Holy Father in the heart of the Gospel, because this is what Jesus has done from dawn to sunset: He assisted those in need,” Cardinal Krajewski told OSV News.
The cardinal traveled to the Kherson area where “following the destruction of the dam, the innocent population is in great distress and many people have lost their lives,” said a news release from the Vatican press office.
“Cardinal Konrad Krajewski’s mission is to be with the people, pray with them and bring an embrace and concrete support from the pontiff,” the news release said.
Cardinal Krajewski, who is prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for the Service of Charity, told OSV News that he needs to go to show the Holy Father’s closeness to Ukrainians, who have been fighting the Russian invasion since February 2022.
But there also is another reason: to remind those in the West that “the tragedy is not over.”
The almoner of Pope Francis departed for Ukraine in a van loaded with the most urgently needed medicines as well as dried food such as pasta. A second truck, loaded mostly with dried soups donated by a Korean producer, will leave Rome and head to the flooded Kherson area within days of the cardinal’s departure.
“One truck is carrying about 100,000 cups of dried soup. We reloaded it in Rome so that they can easily unpack it in Ukraine with their equipment as they don’t have a lot of men for tasks like that,” Cardinal Krajewski said.
Pope Francis asked Cardinal Krajewski to take another batch of donated goods to Ukraine when he was in the hospital, where he underwent abdominal surgery. Pope Francis was discharged from the hospital June 16 after spending nine days in the Gemelli clinic.
“It’s a drop in the ocean of needs, and it won’t save them, but it will comfort them, and it matters,” the cardinal told OSV News.
From Rome, Cardinal Krajewski was to go to Lviv in western Ukraine first, then to Odessa and Kherson by the Dnipro River; Kherson is the city most affected by the damage of the dam June 6.
The destruction of the vast Kakhovka hydroelectric dam has caused $1.3 billion of damage, Ukraine’s environment minister said June 20, as reported by Reuters. He warned that mines unearthed by flooding could wash onto other European countries’ shores. The collapse of the Russian-held dam killed more than 50 people and destroyed homes and farmland.
“The Holy Father repeats every single day: ‘Let’s pray for tormented Ukraine,’” Cardinal Krajewski said, stressing that not only because of war but because of the dam being blown up, the situation of the people is desperate.
“Today in Rome it’s 40 degrees Celsius. Imagine what such temperatures mean in a flooded area,” he said. “Walking is dangerous because the water carries landmines. Additionally, the water is contaminated so disease risk is very high. Mud is everywhere; there are not enough people to clean it.”
“It’s not like here, in Italy,” Cardinal Krajewski said. “When we had the floods in the north, the whole country mobilized and went there to clean.” In Ukraine, men are mobilized to the army, and villages are lacking basic resources.
Father Piotr Rosochacki, director of Caritas-Spes in Odessa, told OSV News June 18 that “Russian occupiers stole the farm equipment earlier from the people, so even in areas close to the flooding there is not a single tractor to pull and clean all those things carried by the waters.”
Loads of donations from the Vatican will reach both Ukrainian-Catholic and Latin-rite Catholic parishes.
“I know that priests and bishops have their luggage ready, just in case something terrible happens,” Cardinal Krajewski said of clergy and religious that he is going to visit along the way. “But so far they are staying. They don’t want to leave unless everyone else leaves. That’s the spirit. They don’t hesitate. They persevere and stay with their people.”
Cardinal Krajewski traveled five times to war-torn Ukraine in 2022. During the first trip in March 2022, he attended an interreligious prayer service for peace in Lviv, and on the second trip he delivered an ambulance donated and blessed by Pope Francis to a Lviv hospital. During the third trip over Easter another papal ambulance was donated to a Kyiv hospital. However, what made headlines across the globe was the picture of the papal almoner praying over the freshly discovered mass graves in Bucha.
During the fourth trip in mid-September, the cardinal visited eastern Ukraine and escaped gunfire while distributing supplies with Bishop Sobilo in Zaporizhzhia. The following day, he visited mass graves in the eastern city of Izyum.
The last trip Cardinal Krajewski made in 2022 to Ukraine was for Christmas, when he secured delivery of thermal clothes to Ukraine.
The Dicastery for the Service of Charity, led by the Polish cardinal, spent $2.2 million in 2022 on humanitarian help for Ukraine.
When Pope Francis asked Cardinal Krajewski whether he was ready to embark on the sixth trip to the country, the cardinal replied: “I don’t feel ready, but I have to go because I read the Gospel every day.”
Paulina Guzik is international editor for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter @Guzik_Paulina.