Summer 2023 – Day Five: And We Touch the Face of Angles

We arrived in Vinnytsia late last night and enjoyed our first night without a visit to the air raid shelter. This morning we’re visiting the State Center for Vocational Education. This is a post secondary, community college
focused on such fields as machining, mechanics, culinary arts, carpentry, plumbing and electronics.

Valeriy Dyakiv, the Director, met us at the door and explained that his institution, like many, pivoted away from its normal mission to address the desperate needs of those fleeing the war zone. Dormitories, classrooms, and meeting spaces were used to house the homeless. The cafeteria and the culinary arts facilities were and continue to be used to feed IDPs. Valeriy, himself, didn’t leave the Center for weeks. 24/7, day after day, Valeriy had to be available because he never knew when families would show up and what needs they might have or what traumas were haunting their nights.

Things have settled down but the dormitories are still full. Victoria and her son Nikita live in one of the dormitories. Valeriy and his staff help find jobs, arrange schools for the kids and generally try to bring some normalcy to life. The machining labs are busy making things for the war effort. Valeriy is quite proud that his students have come up with several innovative products that are proving quite useful for the military. One is a very light weight, foldable stove for heating food or beverages.

Next we meet with Natalia Zabolotna, First Deputy Minister of the Regional Military Administration, Andries Kaqvunets, Deputy Head and several of their staff. The Regional Military Administration is essential a logistical coordination body that tries to get communities what they need. Using rather sophisticated software they match needs with available services, supplies and donors.

Vinnytsia, because it is removed from the active war zone, transited some 600,000 people, including more than 48,000 children and in excess of 6,000 Special Needs Ukrainians. It is now a center for logistical support and for the wounded.

I don’t know what Natalia did before the war but she is a highly intelligent, focused, natural leader. She could name her price in the U.S. corporate world. And yet, like so many others, she channels her talents and energy to relieve Ukraine’s suffering.

The Vinnytsia M.I. Pirogov Regional Clinical Hospital is one of many state of the art facilities that have adjusted to the unique challenges war brings. Their burn unit has expanded and is now a regional hub for treatment. Sadly, it is not just war injuries. With the Russian targeting of utilities last winter people resorted to burning wood to keep warm. House fires were all to common.

Angles come to us in many ways. Katya is a 94 year old angel living at a senior care center in Vinnytsia. She told us the story of her life, a life of privation and hardship. She survived the Soviet engineered famine of the 1930s, the Holodomor, that took most of her family. She survived the German occupation in the 1940s. She carried on when her husband threw her out because she could not bear children. She persevered through the Soviet times and the collapse of the Soviet Union. And, she is now living through yet another war. She has seen three cycles of freedom and occupation for Ukraine. Katya would have every right to be cynical.

But no, her infectious smile and endless cheerfulness raises the spirits of everyone around her. The memories that Katya shares binds generations together. Knowing that this struggle is the culmination of all the struggles of Katya’s life gives purpose to Ukrainians. It isn’t only the doctors, soldiers and care givers who are heroes in Ukraine. Every senior, on whose shoulders the current generation stands, is a hero.

Valeriy, Natalia, Victoria, Nikita, and Katya, angels all.