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Faith, Community, and the Selfless Love for Strangers

Updated: Feb 7

By David Elley, “Beet donkey by day”

I am at Lviv Volunteer Kitchen, so far 9 of 10 days since I have been here. But I have a side project, one that allows me to explore and meet ordinary people in Lviv. I am trying to visit schools with children from all over Ukraine, who are here in Lviv. Many are refugees from the East and South. My goal is to have them tell their stories through art, and for them to see just an ordinary bloke like me, who came 6,000 miles to help them anyway I can.

So last evening, I had to learn the Lviv tram system. I thought I would get my ticket card from Tourist Information. The cold rain continued as it had all day, as I searched Rynok Square for said bureau. All I found was a lady in a red coat who wanted to have me take a survey, but quickly gave up as she learned my linguistic handicap. And the Lion King. He was able to give me enough information to be going on with. All for the princely sum of 200 hryvnia and a bunch of pictures taken by the lady in the red coat.

I joined the crowd, all trying to stay under the shelter at the Pidvalna Street tram stop. #7 tram, all the way to the end, were my instructions. With some help from a willing lady next to me, I scanned my card on the gadget on the tram and settled in for the ride. Ordinary people getting on and off, for the 30 minute ride to the magnificently named Tatarbunarska Street. Try as I might, I could not persuade any lady who looked older than me to take my seat.

Father N met me there and we drove 15 mins further out, our conversation slow and careful in English and occasional visits to Google. Father N. is a 30-ish military chaplain attached to this parish on the edge of Lviv.

At his church, Father N. told me that they support 300 refugees with food, some with work and many of their kids with school activities. I was given the tour of the church grounds. In one shed, two refugee bakers from Kherson were producing the most incredible breads. They of course offered a beautiful, fragrant roll, straight out of the oven. Wow!

Next shed, one lady there cheerfully working amongst a sea of trench candles. “We have made 20,000, a big one like this can last up to 8 hours”, said Father N. We entered the church, and I looked around, careful to remove my woolly NAFO hat and breathed in the feeling of peace. I left a hefty donation in the bowl at the creche. Father N. offered more fresh baked bread and cabbage soup in the kitchen next to the church. And I was given absolutely the best cup of fresh coffee I have had in Lviv. It was incredibly good. He and the senior priest, Father R, live on the grounds. We talked for an hour about everything, American politics, home life, the parish, and the community of people the church supports, all by itself.

I had heard that before the war Lviv was a city of 750,000 people. But now there are 1.4M people here. Now, I was seeing firsthand where many of these new residents were, and the state of stasis they are in, while they wait for the war to end, perhaps to recover their lives, or at least be able to think of their futures. I am an atheist, but I know the power of faith and how it can power communities to give selflessly for each other. Here I was in the heart of such a community.

The kids had arrived at the school by the time I finished my soup. I think the senior teacher was Oksii, and she introduced me to the class of 18 or so, and explained why I was there. I was greeted with waves and shy smiles, and two firm handshakes from the two older students. I talked over my presentation with the younger teacher, Nastia, and she agreed to read the Ukrainian part of my short presentation. After our talk, encouraging the kids to make some art for me to take and auction in the US for funds to support the UAF, I bid everyone goodbye and was driven back through the evening traffic to Svobody Road. I will return in 10 days for the children’s art. It will be a pleasure for me to visit this community again, to feel the togetherness and love they share with each other and extended to me.



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