Boston Area Order of Malta members have responded to the needs of our Ukrainian brothers and sisters in a variety of ways since Russia’s new hostilities against its neighbor began in late February. Benjamin Malec, KM, a Boston Area member, who was concluding a visit to family in Slovakia as the crisis began provided the following summary of his activities directly serving refugees at the Slovak-Ukrainian border.
My first day on the border at Vyšné Nemecké was Tuesday, March 2nd, serving overnight from 2 PM to 7 AM the next day. I was immediately put to work by the Slovak Order of Malta’s Auxiliary Corp, Maltézska Pomoc Slovensko (MPS). They were on the border as early as Saturday morning as one of just two organizations ready to help. Since we were early on the scene, our tents were the first sight for any Ukrainian crossing the border. Slovak and Ukrainian are not mutually intelligible, so I was called upon to explain to English-speaking Ukrainians how to move forward with accommodations, transportation, and paperwork upon entering Slovakia. On Wednesday, I gave an interview to American Czech and Slovak diaspora which they have posted online here.
Because Vyšné Nemecké is a small village of a couple hundred people, it naturally lacks enough shelter and transportation further into Slovakia for the thousands coming from Ukraine each day. That meant we had to move as many people as we could to the interior of the country where there are better facilities and connections to transportation. We met with the Prime Minister of Slovakia to escalate the need for buses. Two days later, we had continuous bus service to Košice, where public transportation is accessible. For refugees that arrived past midnight or were very tired, tent accommodations and food were provided by the Red Cross and local scouting organizations. It was the Order of Malta’s responsibility to help manage these resources and assist refugees deciding their next steps. It was quite impressive to see that the MPS, the auxiliary corp, was the group brokering deals with Slovak government, local officials, and other volunteer organizations.
By Saturday, I was promoted to the management team overseeing the Order of Malta functions, transportation, housing, anti-trafficking concerns, and ensuring drinkable water supplies. We became an international news story when we helped an eleven-year-old boy cross the border (click here to read this story). During my time there, about 35 thousand refugees passed through and I was able to personally assist at least a thousand of the refugees from Ukraine.
A harrowing story I regularly heard from people fleeing Kyiv was that trains leaving the capital traveled almost three days to reach the border, having to move at agonizingly slow speeds of 10-20 miles per hour. This was to prevent derailment and mass deaths in case the track was blown up by Russian forces directly before the approach of the train. Slower speeds assured the train could be stopped in time to prevent mass casualties and death to the passengers. The trains also had to travel with the lights off and no one seated to decrease the chance of being targeted. People from these trains reported not sleeping for as many as three or four days. We encountered some refugees from as far as Kyiv who were sleep-deprived and traumatized, hallucinating, suffering from extreme paranoia, and in very sad cases, experiencing total mental breakdowns.
By the end of a week, I was physically exhausted and headed back to my family’s home in Slovakia, two and a half hours from the border. However, I did not go empty handed nor did my mission end. Even as I am writing, I am hosting a Ukrainian friend’s family of five in one of my properties. I will help them acclimate to being here and navigate legal paperwork to stay in Slovakia. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the border from Vyšné Nemecké is the proud, old city of Uzhhorod, Ukraine. Since a Ukrainian training base close to the border with Poland was attacked by Russian forces on March 13th, there are rumors Uzhhorod may be bombed because its airport is closest to NATO, immediately across the border from Slovakia. Though I am unaware if Slovakia would move arms and armaments across the border for NATO, the threat of an attack a few miles from our border post is taken seriously and could potentially impact our mission. Slava Ukrajine! Our Lady of Philermos, pray for us! Blessed Gerard, pray for us!
Click here to read how other members of the American Association are assisting in the relief efforts for Ukraine.
Ben has also been a member of the bi-weekly Boston Area Malta Walks team for many years. Boston Area members and Auxiliary who participate in the walks are assisting to collect tactical first aid supplies (non-lethal items which help prevent loss of blood or death during bombings, building collapses, or attacks), as well as cold-weather gear and other material support for Ukrainians, in cooperation with Ukraine Forward, a ministry of Christ the King Ukrainian Catholic Church in Boston. If you would like to assist in this effort, please email Boston Area Hospitaller Christopher Carter Lee at email@example.com.
Many Boston Area members also joined the Holy Father Pope Francis in a novena for peace in Ukraine, which led up to the March 25th Consecration of Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by his Holiness and, at the Pope’s request, by all the bishops of the world, in keeping with Our Lady’s request at Fatima.