First mission trip to Zaporozhzhya
First mission trip to Zaporozhzhya – Renovation work at St Michael the Archangel Hospice
On June 5, 2011, 10 missionaries traveled with me from Wisconsin to Ukraine. Our mission was to assist in performing renovations to a very poor hospice in Zaporozhe. The hospice is located in a building which was constructed in 1953. Very few improvements have been made to the structure since then. The hospice is dedicated to serving the poor and homeless people of the area. There are 31 patients at the hospice, with one admitted while we were there, and one death just four days after we returned home.
The conditions at the hospice are deplorable. The average room size is 12 x 14, with four patients in each room. Plaster is chipped off the walls and ceiling, the old linoleum floor is worn through, electrical outlets don’t work and the windows are covered by metal bars and offer little ventilation. Some rooms reek of urine because of the old, worn out mattresses that people in the United States wouldn’t allow their dogs to sleep on. The smell permeates the corridor, even with the door shut.
St. Michael the Archangel Hospice Center
There are no TV’s for the patients to watch. The only entertainment I saw was a couple of small, portable radios that a few of the patients kept next to their pillow, which they played softly, trying to make the batteries last as long as possible. The entire week we were there, I saw only one lady who was mobile and able to walk outside. The outside grounds consist of a driveway and a green area covered with weeds and overgrowth. There was no place for her to sit and enjoy the sunshine or a smooth path to walk on. So, she walked amongst the weeds with her cane, just happy she was one of the lucky ones who were able to go outside, and not limited to looking at four walls every minute of every day, like the other patients.
There is only one bathroom that is operational in the entire building. This bathroom, along with seven patient rooms, was completely renovated shortly before our arrival, with money provided by Chalice of Mercy. However, much work remains. The kitchen is in total disrepair and unusable. Meals must be brought in by volunteers or other sources. Additional bathroom, shower and sanitation areas are virtually useless because of wheelchair inaccessibility and extremely poor structural conditions. Three remaining patient rooms, corridors and administrative areas require renovation. A new roof is needed and currently, there is only one exit door. With the door’s location and handicap inaccessibility, the bedridden patients would be in grave danger in case of a fire.
Renovating a Patient Room
The missionaries and I met up with my dear friend and Chalice of Mercy member, Valentyna Pavsyukova, at the Kiev airport upon our arrival Monday afternoon. After a short eight hour bus ride on roads filled with potholes, we arrived in Zaporozhe early Tuesday morning, at the diocese center of The Church of Merciful Father God, our home for the week.
Val and Sharon with Bishop Jan
The next morning began with Holy Mass. After a hearty breakfast, we arrived at the hospice center. The construction manager, Yuri Malish, gave us a tour of the facility and outlined the work we would be doing. Yuri is truly a man of faith and this is seen in all he does and the life he lives. Yuri is donating his time and labor towards the hospice renovation. His sons, Dennis and Volodya also help him with the renovations. And, Yuri’s wife, Gulnaz, prepared all our meals for us, including bringing our midday lunch to us while we worked at the center. Gulnaz is a wonderful cook and prepared a variety of original Ukrainian foods for us, which everyone enjoyed.
So much has been accomplished at the hospice because of this family. Chalice of Mercy is very thankful for everything they do, not only to help with our mission work, but more importantly, the faith and love they show towards the needy people of Ukraine. However, with all Yuri and Gulnaz do, the most significant is the love and support they openly show each other as husband and wife.
Missionaries and Some Staff
Our renovation duties included refinishing the plaster walls and ceiling in a patient room; removal of tiles and destruction of walls in a bathroom and in the kitchen area, in preparation for new electrical, plumbing, walls and appliances; and constructing exterior brick walls for two new exits – including a handicap exit. The missionaries worked very hard in hot, dirty conditions, and made tremendous progress doing the work assigned. By the end of the week, the patient room had the final coat of plaster applied, brickwork was almost completed for the exits, the bathroom was gutted, the kitchen was ready for plasterboard and a large new kitchen window was installed.
Much credit is due towards the missionaries. They showed great patience and respect for the Ukrainian people, even though the language barrier initially created some difficulties understanding their project assignments, compounded by the construction process in Ukraine being somewhat different than what is done in America. However, within a very short time, everyone understood what needed to be done and they performed their work tirelessly throughout the week. We finished on Friday, our final day at the hospice center.
Building a Handicap Entrance
The seven renovated rooms are a welcomed improvement at the hospice center. The new walls, floor and windows remind many patients of their home. The cleanliness is a stark difference from those rooms still in need of renovation. The noisy pounding and dust we made didn’t seem to bother them, because they were happy and grateful for the much needed improvements.
The bathroom, sanitation and kitchen areas were demolished and prepped for new walls, floors and appliances. However, the remaining cost of $7,750 for these areas is beyond the funds currently available for the project. These areas will be completed as soon as additional donations come in and we are financially able to do so. The total amount needed to complete the entire hospice renovation is approximately $45,000. More than half this amount is for a new roof, with the remaining balance for renovations of a corridor and of administrative offices.
On Saturday, we visited the Kalinovka Orphanage for Disabled Children. Chalice of Mercy purchased 38 cases of diapers, costing over $1,000, and we brought them to the orphanage with us. Because of the spontaneous generosity of the missionaries, we were able to purchase 5 more cases of diapers than originally planned. We also brought along fruit, candy and new pillowcases for the children.
There are four buildings at this orphanage with 125 children living here. The first building we entered was the most difficult one for me, and I believe, for everyone else. It housed the most severely disabled children. All were bedridden and many handicapped beyond belief. One girl had an extremely large tumor going out the back of her head. The nurse told us the girl’s brain had now extended into the tumor, so surgery was not an option. If this child would have had access to proper medical care, the tumor could have likely been operated on before it got to this stage. From her appearance, I thought this dear child was around three years old. I found out she was 11 years old, and had probably been in that same bed most all her life. She had such cute, big, brown eyes – and no one to love her. Her little hands held on to my fingers and grasped even tighter when I tried to leave. I will never, ever forget her smile, despite all the adversity she faced. I will never forget the sadness I felt as I walked away.
The other three buildings housed disabled children of various ages. Many of the children suffered from cerebral palsy. One building housed mentally handicapped teenage boys. All the children were happy to see us. This visit opened our eyes to the orphan crisis in Ukraine. The director of the orphanage, Nikolay Viktorovich, told us there have been no adoptions over the past five years at this orphanage. All but four of the children were abandoned by their parents – parents unable to cope with their child’s disability – in a country that has no support or programs in place to help children with disabilities or their parents. We had one good experience here. We met a mother who lives in Zaporozhe and comes to visit her child once a week. The orphanage is a two hour drive from Zaporozhe. This mother doesn’t have a car, so she takes the bus as far as she can. The orphanage is over six miles from the nearest bus stop. So, she walks from the bus stop to the orphanage, spends a couple hours with her son, then walks six miles back to the bus stop and takes the two hour ride back home. We picked her up about a mile into her return walk and took her to Zaporozhe.
Val and Sharon with 38 Cases of Diapers Donated to the Orphanage by Chalice of Mercy
Our evenings were filled with visiting sites in the city. Thursday evening we were invited to Valentyna’s mother’s home for dinner. We were treated to wonderful food and hospitality. Friday evening we were blessed to have supper with Bishop Jan Sobilo. Bishop Jan returned from Poland the previous evening, bringing with him a transitional deacon. Bishop Jan, himself, originally came to Ukraine from Poland in 1993. At that time, there was no Catholic church in Zaporozhe, a city of over one million people. As a parish priest, he started ministering with only seven Catholic’s and celebrated Mass in homes. With Bishop Jan’s deep spiritual leadership and unending love, Catholicism has flourished in Zaporozhe, with the Church of Merciful Father God built in 2006. Father Andrey Popov and Father Oleg Kovinev also reside at this parish, and both have mercifully helped the people of Ukraine and Chalice of Mercy with our missions.
On Sunday we attended Mass with several college students from Nigeria. We were given a great gift to join them in worship with their native music. After Mass and breakfast, the missionaries loaded their suitcases in the bus and traveled to Kiev, to spend the night and catch an early flight back to Wisconsin. Their work was done, but they will never be forgotten.
Valentyna and I would like to extend a very special thank you to; Tom Strom, Jason Hutzler, Jennie Sanders, Terry Kannegiesser, Al Mathews, Anatoly Kulik, Rene’ Poulson, Paul Squire, Paul “Pickle” Merfeld, Joe Schwabenbauer, Fr. Roger Scheckel and Clayton Shakal for answering the call and making this mission trip a success. Their hard work, commitment and embrace of Chalice of Mercy’s missions will have lasting effects in Ukraine and with the Ukrainian people.
I stayed with Valentyna in Ukraine a few extra days and met with Bishop Jan to discuss the continued presence of Chalice of Mercy in Ukraine. Bishop Jan is excited about our continued missions and outlined new requests he needs our help with. Work will continue at the hospice center, as donations allow, and our mission for protection of all life will also continue.
Thank you to all our volunteers and those who support our missions financially and with prayers. I can confidently say that with your help, Chalice of Mercy is making a very big difference in Ukraine!