Knights of Columbus in Ukraine and Poland Aid Refugees | National Review

Knights of Columbus in Ukraine and Poland Aid Refugees | National Review

Local residents escape from the town of Irpin after heavy shelling landed on the only escape route used by locals in Irpin, Ukraine, March 6, 2022. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

On February 25, the day after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Knights of Columbus committed $1 million to help afflicted Ukrainians and announced a fundraising effort to provide more. To date, $4.5 million has been raised, all of it going directly to relief efforts.

The Catholic fraternal organization has set up “mercy huts” in Poland, right across the border from Ukraine. When fleeing refugees enter Poland, they can immediately receive food, medical supplies, clothing, and relief from the Eastern European winter weather. The huts are based on the principle that guided the Knights’ humanitarian efforts in Europe during World War I: “Everybody welcome, everything free.”

The organization has also begun sending supplies into Ukraine, with the first shipment arriving in Lviv on March 1. Ukrainian Knights, under the direction of the Archdiocese of Lviv, have formed a group to coordinate relief efforts in Ukraine.

Knights of Columbus director Szymon Czyszek is an attorney by trade. He graduated from the same university in Poland that Pope John Paul II attended and joined the Catholic fraternal organization in 2009.

The legacy of John Paul II and the fight against communism looms large in the Knights’ present actions, Czyszek said in a media call with reporters today. He spoke of the Solidarity movement in Poland that culminated in the end of the communist government and said he feels a similar sense of solidarity today. “There is a beautiful sign of support from Polish people to welcome Ukrainian people,” he said. “I believe this will be a transformative moment for both societies.”

Czyszek also sees God’s providence in preparing the Knights for this crisis. The Knights were only established in Poland in 2006 and in Ukraine in 2012. Czyszek said, “We grew rapidly to prepare ourselves for this moment.” There are currently 6,840 members in Poland and 1,889 in Ukraine. Having an established organization on both sides of the border gives the Knights an advantage in getting relief to people who need it.

Czyszek pointed to the founding of the organization by Father Michael McGivney, a child of Irish immigrants, and the group’s many immigrant members. In view of that heritage, he sees a special obligation for Knights to care for immigrants and refugees. Czyszek spoke of a Ukrainian couple he encountered in Poland whose few possessions were nevertheless in two suitcases. “They told me, ‘We took two suitcases because we didn’t know if we’d be allowed to stay together or be separated,’” Czyszek said.

The need is great and is likely to grow. “I think everybody is preparing for a long-term process,” said Czyszek of the movement of refugees. Yet he remains hopeful. He said the Knights have not encountered any hostility against their efforts so far, and he believes the organization is well prepared to help meet the material needs of refugees. As for people’s spiritual health, Czyszek said, “This moment of solidarity has the power to change hearts and minds.”

Dominic Pino is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at National Review Institute.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.