Ukrainian refugees in Slovakia have spoken about their sorrow at the ongoing conflict in their country and voiced gratitude for support from around the world.

Speaking to Maltese lay brother Martin Azzopardi, SDC, who spent the European summer offering therapy to Ukrainian refugees, Oleksandra Panchuk, a 31-year-old airfield nurse from Vinnytsa, described the night Russian forces invaded Ukraine.

“On the night of February 24th, at 4:30 a.m., an emergency phone call woke me up. My niece called me from Kharkiv saying, ‘Sasha, we are being bombed! This is war.’”

“In the morning when I went to work, a rocket fell nearby and there was an explosion. I fell on the floor...Everything was like a nightmare.”

Oleksandra’s husband, Valentin, was working abroad and agreed that she should flee with their 7-year-old daughter, Anastasiia. They were taken in by Capuchin Friars in Slovakia on March 9 and have remained there with other refugee families.

“The Capuchin Order in Slovakia takes care of us as if we were their own family,” she said to Brother Martin.

Oleksandra prays every night, “begging God to save my country, our people, our children, our soldiers and our future. I pray that humanity never makes such mistakes again.”

When asked about her life now, Oleksandra said, “I feel very safe with the Capuchins in Slovakia and I am very grateful to the Capuchin Order and to the Slovakian government. However, my heart is in Ukraine and I want to go back home when this terrible war is over.”

Similar sentiments were echoed to Azzopardi by another refugee, 83-year-old Cherkas Vera Andriivna. Born in 1939, she lived through the difficulties of the post-war period in Kharkiv and led a happy life with her husband and two daughters.

“On February 24, 2022, at 4:30 a.m, my peaceful old life ended with the sound of artillery fire from the side of the border with Russia.”

Cherkas initially hid in the basement of her house with her daughter, but then fled to Lviv and across the border. She, too, has found safety in Slovakia, and visits the Capuchin church daily to pray for an end to the war.

“I have a dream to live until the time when my city, like other cities of Ukraine, will be rebuilt. I want to return home to Ukraine.”

“Here in Slovakia, I have the opportunity to pray at the Capuchin church daily. I ask God to save the lives of Ukrainian soldiers, Ukrainian people, and children.”