HOSHIV, Ukraine ( Associated Press) — A quiet monastery in the western Ukrainian village of Hoshiv, beneath the pristine beech forests of the Carpathian Mountains, has transformed itself into a giant playground for a dozen children who are at war with their families. have been displaced.
In the Greek Catholic Congregation of Sisters of the Holy Family 100 kilometers (60 mi) from Lviv, nuns have sheltered some 40 people fleeing fighting with Russian forces in eastern and central Ukraine.
The sounds of birds and the gentle drone of prayers are a relief for 59-year-old Riyama Strizko, who fled Kharkiv. “It looked like planes were flying in the middle of the house. And you could hear the sound of bombings,” she recalled. She often had to run behind cars as she was going to buy bread or medicines.
“After what we saw, (the monastery) is a paradise.”
The monastery itself is a symbol of resilience, having been built after Ukraine’s independence in the early 1990s. The previous monastery in the village was closed by the communist authorities while the area was part of the Soviet Union, and the nuns were deported to Siberia.
“All our prayers are now focused on peace in Ukraine, for our soldiers, for the innocent people who died, who were murdered,” said Sister Dominica, the chief nun.
Before the war, 17 nuns led a quiet life. In addition to his religious duties and charitable work, he also grew mushrooms, made his own pasta and painted icons to decorate the chapel. Now, they run after young children, provide support and counseling to their mothers, and cook for dozens of guests every day.
“Everything in the monastery is focused on prayer and order,” explained Sister Dominica. But when the Russian offensive began, they told local officials that they could host 50 displaced people.
“We adjusted the prayer and work schedule for the people,” she said.
Many of the children who are now laughing and hugging the nuns are in shock.
“In the beginning, he was a bit reticent. This is a new place for them. They have come from cities where (shooting is taking place), where sirens are continuously sounding (air raids), ”she said.
But even in these peaceful environments, nuns still get air strike warnings on their smartphones. They warn the rest of the residents by ringing the monastery bell – a less painful sound than the loud sirens in the cities – and direct them to the dungeon.
There is a temporary chapel decorated with a painting of Mary and the Baby Jesus, a candle and a large cross made of branches. Mattresses, blankets and benches also line the basement. One of the walls had “The Prodigy” written in chalk, a clear tribute to a British dance-electronic band.
But even when there are no sirens, children happily use the underground space of the caves.
“We play, and we read prayers,” said 10-year-old Rostislav Borisenko, who along with his mother had fled after besieging Mariupol. “It helps.”
His mother still eagerly awaits news from relatives and friends who did not escape Mariupol, or were taken to the eastern regions controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
Despite being thousands of kilometers away from the frontline, the conversation at the dinner table mostly revolved around the war.
While families break bread in the dining room, the nuns separately dine at a long table under a painting of the Last Supper in the library. Among them is Sister Josefa, 44, who was expelled from the Kyiv monastery on the first day of the war.
“It’s hard to leave the place you used to live in,” she said. “Although I may stay here… my heart is there. And I look forward to going back.”
Associated Press photojournalist Nariman Al-Mofty contributed to this report.