Ukrainian, Polish Knights of Columbus Marshal Resources to Help Care for Refugees

The Knights want to tell the many refugees, 'We will carry your burdens, and we want to overcome evil with good.'

Polish Knights of Columbus unload a truck full of supplies for refugees fleeing Ukraine.
Polish Knights of Columbus unload a truck full of supplies for refugees fleeing Ukraine. (photo: Courtesy photo / Knights of Columbus)

Polish and Ukrainian Knights of Columbus have been working together to provide aid to the millions of refugees fleeing Ukraine amid Russia’s assault on the country, the organization said Tuesday. 

Szymon Czyszek, the Knights’ Director of International Growth in Europe, said during a March 8 press conference that the Knights want to tell the many refugees, “We will carry your burdens, and we want to overcome evil with good.” 

Russian forces launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. 

Marshaling members on both sides of the border, the Knights of Columbus have been able to provide relief both in Ukraine and in neighboring Poland, where more than 1.2 million Ukrainians have sought refuge. 

The Catholic fraternal organization announced on Feb. 25 a solidarity fund for Ukraine, pledging to match all donations up to $500,000. So far, the fund has raised over $4 million, and the fraternal organization was able to send a truck of supplies to Lviv, Ukraine’s western-most major city, within days of the invasion, which was then distributed by local Knights.

Polish Knights have established collection sites in Kraków, Radom, and Tomaszów Lubelski, where they are gathering and packaging medical supplies, warm clothing, and other necessities, the organization says.

The Knights’ presence in both countries is relatively new, chapters having begun in Poland in 2006, and Ukraine in 2012. Today, there are around 7,000 members in Poland and 2,000 in Ukraine. 

Czyszek said it is the Knights’ goal to provide both immediate and long-term help. At the Ukraine border, the Knights have created what they call “mercy huts” to serve as distribution points for food and water to refugees. 

Czyszek said the Knights are working very closely with both the Latin Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. The Knights are also working with other organizations such as the Catholic charity Caritas and the Polish government, and they have set up a database of parishioner homes and parish centers where refugees can seek shelter until Polish friends or family can meet them and bring them to a final destination. 

Though the Knights have not yet encountered “hostility” in the face of their work with the refugees, Czyszek said many of the refugees are vulnerable and in need of protection. Some families have had to be separated, with the women and children often needing to flee on their own. 

As of March 8, more than 2 million people have fled Ukraine amid continued Russian shelling of several major cities, and around 1 million people are internally displaced, according to the United Nations refugee agency. 

Czyszek said many refugees are preparing to have to be away from their homes for a while, given the possibility of a long term ground war, and the fact that already many of their home cities have been destroyed. 

“This will not be a short term thing. We need to be prepared,” he said. 

Still, Czyszek said he is hopeful. He said he draws inspiration from Solidarity, the 20th-century Polish movement which peacefully took the country back from the communists in the 1980s, with the encouragement of Pope St. John Paul II. 

“This moment of solidarity has the power to change hearts and minds, has the power to stop the aggression on Ukraine’s people,” he said.  

Blessed Michael McGiveney, who founded the Knights of Columbus, had a vision of men primarily caring for widows and orphans, and also had a special care for immigrants. That the Knights in Poland and Ukraine are doing so much now to care for women and children is “confirmation” that they are living out McGiveney’s vision, Czyszek said. 

Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly also emphasized the Knights’ mission to help the vulnerable in an interview with CNA this week. 

“Blessed Father Michael McGivney founded our fraternal organization to help the vulnerable. At that time they were widows and orphans, but the vulnerable may change, and in this situation the vulnerable are the Ukrainian families, women and children, and we as Knights are responding accordingly,” Kelly told CNA on March 7.