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Monday, July 30, 2012

On the ground in Ukraine with HART

According to this article, Ukraine will spend millions of dollars for cooperating with 'diasporans.'

Ukrainian tax dollars will go to cover the travel expenses of "friends of the government" who visit Europe, Canada, the USA, Australia, even Brazil ... ostensibly to network with the Ukrainian diaspora.

I imagine few of those footing the bill consider there is much likelihood of many such “ambassadors” actually coming face-to-face with a "diasporan" in such places as Miami or the French Riviera.

Meanwhile on the ground in Ukraine, I'm currently seeing first hand the conditions in which beleaguered taxpayers live, and the breathtaking incompetence of those in charge of collecting and spending their tax hryvias.

So incompetent and indifferent are these stewards of the public purse that impoverished Ukrainians have to rely on foreign charities for a leg up and a shot at a decent standard of living.

My host organization for this trip, HART (Humanitarian Aid Response Team out of Calgary), is quite unlike the elitist sycophants jetsetting and hobnobbing at the expense of hard-working Ukrainian citizens.

I arrived in Lviv on July 18 and have already had several jaw-dropping experiences ... both good and bad, happy and sad. My host, Lloyd Cenaiko, the founder of HART keeps assuring me that I will have very many more during the rest of our time together here.

HART raises funds in western Canada… from mostly non-Ukrainian evangelical Christians. And 100% of funds raised goes to Ukrainians in need who are off the radar of the local authorities, and the diaspora for that matter. (Funds to cover administrative costs are raised separately.)

HART supports local organizations (primarily evangelical churches) that set up soup kitchens for street children, summer camps for orphans, and programs for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, hardened criminals, the handicapped, trafficked women, orphans, and other disadvantaged Ukrainians.

Particularly astonishing is a hugely successful prison ministry run by evangelicals. As a result of their efforts, hundreds of hardened criminals are now leading normal, productive lives and contributing to the communities in which they live.

Fimiam Church in Lutsk, Ukraine
The church I visited in Lutsk on Friday operates the only program in western Ukraine which supports the handicapped. (Update: This refers to a rehab program offered free of charge, particularly for the physically handicapped. Details in my interview with Lloyd.)

They also built a playground and soccer field which is available to the greater community of some 20,000 people. It is the only recreational area for kids in the area. As in most Ukrainian cities, such civic services as parks are low on the priority list of city officials.

Sadly, those willing to do the work encounter roadblock after roadblock set up by officials and the elites who influence them.

Inside of activity tent
These include (shamefully) clerics in traditional churches who envy the success of the huge and growing evangelical churches and their outreach programs. They obviously don't like the competition ... yet refuse to roll up their sleeves and do similar work themselves. (I believe the term is: dog in the manger.)

After visiting Fimiam Church in Lutsk we dropped off Canadian volunteers from Three Hills, AB at a summer Bible camp a couple of hours past Lutsk.

Hot water shower!
The camp was primitive but teeming with Ukrainian ingenuity! They set up sleeping tents and had a great eating/activity tent and the cooking tent was pretty skookum.

The outhouse was a hole in the floor, but they rigged up a hot water shower ... there in the middle of nowhere! We thought they were kidding when they told us about it in Lutsk. Sometime's it's hard to tell when Ukrainians are joking and when they are serious. LOL
To get to the camp, we drove on atrocious roads, and through a terribly poverty-stricken village inhabited by mostly alcoholic men and their wives and children struggling to make some kind of a life for themselves. The houses reminded me of my grandparents' old homestead khata I vaguely recall from my childhood days in Saskatchewan, after the spiders and mice had taken over residence. Very sad.

Yet, interestingly, there were lovely flower gardens in just about every yard (planted of course by the women). And vegetable gardens, and lots of geese. A reflection, perhaps, of the enduring beauty of the Ukrainian soul struggling to survive against all odds.

Today (Sunday) I was at an evangelical church that had been a TV factory in the soviet era. Ironically, it was a originally a church that the soviets trashed and converted to a factory that ran 24/7. Miraculously, some lovely arched windows and a bit of stained glass survived the pillage.

There is much renovation left to do and the congregation has a huge vision for social outreach. Another irony – most of the money comes from a Calgary church working with HART. An evangelical church, that is - not a Ukrainian Catholic or Orthodox church. However a Ukrainian Catholic church in Calgary has expressed interest in working with HART, so hopefully that will change.

There is a gargantuan amount of work to be done "in the trenches" to raise the standard of living in Ukraine to anything resembling what diasporans in the west take for granted.

It is ironic, and sad, how much of it is being taken up by non-Ukrainians and people of Ukrainian descent (like the founder of HART) outside the established Ukrainian community. The saddest part is how many people in the diaspora wrap themselves in the Ukrainian flag and then go hobnobbing with the very political elites whose corruption they publicly decry.

This trip, my third to Ukraine, is marked by a stark contrast between heartbreaking poverty and a shining hope for the future.

HART invited me to Ukraine to see what they do on the ground here. I am particularly intrigued with their child sponsor program, one of the most successful to have been established.

The cost to sponsor a child in Ukraine is $1 a day, which converts (at the current exchange rate) to about 8 hryvnias. The average salary of most families who are sponsored is about 300 hryvnias a month.

I am asking Nash Holos listeners and other readers of this blog to consider sponsoring a Ukrainian child through HART.

For less than the cost of a cup of coffee a day, a Canadian or American can almost double the household income of an impoverished Ukrainian family, and give a Ukrainian child not only the gift of practical necessities, but also of hope for the future.

As Lloyd Cenaiko, the founder of HART, often points out, it is only by accident of birth that Canadians of Ukrainian descent are not experiencing the hardships and hopelessness that so many native Ukrainians do.

Please join me in sponsoring a Ukrainian child, if for no other reason than to express gratitude for the good fortune to be born in a land of opportunity – and for having the opportunity to “give back” to our ancestral homeland.

It's the least those of us in the diaspora can do.

Plus, you can be assured that every cent of your donation will end up in the hands of those for whom it is intended ... and not the ruling elite and their friends.

You can find a link to HART’s child sponsor program at the Nash Holos website.

More later ... 

Next stop: somewhere in the Carpathian mountains.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your wonderful description of your trip. Looking for more.
Helping at HART is a wonderful life experience.

Pawlina said...

Thanks for the comment, Joyce! I agree ... HART is amazing and awesome. I'm definitely planning to share more of my experience with them ... here and on the show. :-)

Steve_Barrie said...

Why the hostility towards the traditional Ukrainian Churches? Why the misinformation? For example, Zenia Kushpeta, originaly from Toronto has been and still is involved in the L'Arche programme for the disabled in Western Ukraine. There is no need for you to discredit the Christian works of others just to make your group look better.

Pawlina said...

Thanks for your comment, Steve.

Any "hostility" in my post was directed towards individual members of traditional churches who obstruct the good works of evangelical Christians.

I preferred to keep the nasty details out of this article and focus on the positives. But since I am accused of "misinforming" let me clarify.

With my own earls I heard evangelical Christians(who had no reason to lie) give examples of Orthodox priests who tried to shut down kids' summer bible camps, prison ministries, and discussions with civic officials about dire social issues.

IMHO these are not things that professed Christians should be doing … especially men of the cloth.

If pointing out this unpleasant reality upsets some readers, there is not much I can do about it. It is what it is.

Also, this is the first I have heard of Ms. Kushpeta and the L'Arch program. I am at a complete loss to understand how not writing about someone and something of whose existence I am totally unaware constitutes "discrediting" them.

Given how much free publicity I have given to the traditional churches over the years on my show, and the list of Ukrainian churches in BC that I put up years ago, I am astounded to be accused of being “hostile” towards them.

All I have done is write a bit about the work of evangelical Christians helping the needy in Ukraine and building communities and strengthening their country in the press. I was able to do this because a wonderful Canadian charity called HART invited me to Ukraine to see it first hand, and meet the people doing it.

L'Arch and any other organizations connected with traditional churches are free to do the same.

Incidentally, HART has invited a “traditional” church in Canada to participate in their good works in Ukraine.

To me, this is the true spirit of Christianity ... working together to help the needy, and transcending the divisive "us vs. them" religious politics of the past.

I am anxious to hear more about this Christian collaboration, and to report on it as well.

Pawlina said...

I meant to say "building and strengthening their country in the *process* ... (not "press")

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