The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, is spearheading an impressive on-site effort to assist Ukrainian victims and refugees of the Russian invasion, which is about to enter its third week.
Along Poland’s border with Ukraine, the Knights have set up “mercy huts” to welcome fleeing refugees with food, medical supplies, clothing and relief with the motto “Everybody welcome, everything free.” It echoes the organization’s European campaign during World War I to assist war victims regardless of nationality or politics.
Refugees can then stay at the Knights of Columbus Mercy Center on the Polish side of the border until family, friends or volunteers can take them to a more permanent place of refuge. While many arrive at the border with specific places to go due to the proximity, the increasing number of refugees is straining relief systems hastily.
It was Pope John Paul II in 2006 whose request led to the Knights of Columbus being organized in his home country of Poland and six years later, the Ukrainian branch was established. The KOC in Ukraine has 40 active councils and nearly 2,000 members.
Both are headquartered near the violent conflict, which Polish KOC director, Szymon Czyszek, calls “providential.”
The day after the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, the Knights of Columbus pledged $1 million for relief efforts and has raised $4.5 million since.
In an interview with the National Catholic Register, US Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly said that as 9/11 was a defining moment in this country, “the brutal invasion of Ukraine will be a defining moment for the world.”
Polish Knights say the volunteers have thus far not been met with violence, but the idea of using women to take aid across the border as non-combatants was rejected over concerns about sending them into the war zone alone.
In an admirable display of devotion, the two-pronged KOC initiative serves refugees along the Polish border and directly crewing a truck shuttle originating in eastern Poland that crosses the border into Ukraine to aid those Ukrainians left behind in the struggle.
One trip has already been successfully made and the second is being organized.
Of the over 2 million refugees who have fled the Russian invasion, nearly 1.3 million are in Poland, which shares a 330-mile border with Ukraine. The departure is the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Since it is underway during the cold Eastern European winter, refugees show up in great need of clothing and warmth.
Many are arriving barefoot, according to aid workers along the border.