Caring for Ukraine’s refugee children

April 04, 2024 

Wednesday, April 4
Ternopil, Ukraine

You remember Paddington Bear? He’s the cartoon teddy bear left at Paddington Station in London with a tag that says, “Please look after this bear.” Paddington was created by Michael Bond, a British author inspired by seeing Jewish refugee children who were brought to Great Britain between 1938-40 to escape Nazi-occupied territories. I was reminded of this history of Paddington today by Father Martin Khomiv, a pastor of a Greek Catholic Church in Ternopil, Ukraine. Father Martin and his wife run a program to provide care and mental health services to children displaced from their homes in Eastern Ukraine. Father Martin is Ukrainian but was raised in the United Kingdom. He speaks near-perfect English with a slight cockney accent. In addition to art therapy and other services, Father Martin said they have a room of teddy bears for the children to hug when they need to. “Ukraine’s refugee children are Paddington Bear,” he explains. 

Father Martin’s ministry – and many others we have visited – receive funding from International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC). ICMC has supported efforts to provide mental health and psycho-social services to children, adults and families in Ukraine, particularly those helping internal refugees. The trauma of this invasion and war is a significant public health issue and will remain so for decades to come. Having been here with Christian and Monsignor Vitillo from ICMC, and Bruce Compton from the Catholic Health Association (CHA), I more clearly see the need for an international response that cares for the whole person and community – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health needs. 

CHA recently adopted a new vision statement: “We will empower bold change to elevate human flourishing.” As we have visited many areas of Ukraine, we’ve listened and learned what new collaborations – and strengthening current ones – could look like to empower people here and overall enhance approaches to global health partnerships. 

Tomorrow (April 5) I will write about our visit to two hospitals in rural parts of Ukraine that received equipment from Mission Outreach through the Knights of Columbus. Also, CHA is hosting a webinar tomorrow during which we all will be talking about this trip – and it features Father Martin and his wife discussing their children’s ministry. I can’t wait to learn more about that. If you want to join, here's the link to register.

We say often that “global health is local health.” I believe that now more than ever. People are people wherever they are found in need – at Paddington Station or Ternopil, Ukraine. 

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Caring for Ukraine’s refugee children