Even though summer is slowly closing its doors behind us, the impressions and experiences are still vivid in our minds. Katka Pajerská, a coordinator of Children’s donation project® in Ukraine, shared a few experiences with us. To deliver humanitarian aid, she traveled thousands of kilometers to the remote parts of Ukraine, where people are grateful even for a loaf of bread. However, she also managed several trips and visits to the zoo with children.
Summer is almost over, how did you spend it this year?
I usually have it booked well before it even starts. I always plan spiritual exercises, visit my parents (although this year I only spent two days with them), several-day trips with multiple groups of children, one-day trips with small children, spiritual exercises for young people, programs for mothers, or canning in settlements. In between, I completed several humanitarian trips to the east of Ukraine, so I can safely say that I had a fulfilling summer. I am very happy about it. For the last five days of August, I was with my colleagues in Medjugorje.
What is the best way for you to relax during this period?
For me, a frequent change in my activities is a way of relaxing. For example, after a trip with the children, I find relaxation in washing and ironing bed linen. Outside of Mukachevo is one smaller hill called Lovačka – I like to run up it early in the morning. In prayer, I await the sunrise, and then I go to morning mass, where I get energy for the entire day. Among other things, I like hiking, cycling, and reading.
What is the most beautiful moment that has stuck in your memory while working with the children?
I was delighted to see their joy while feeding the animals in the zoo. The zoo workers were also enthusiastic and prepared food for us to feed the animals. If it were possible, the children would spend the whole day with the little monkeys. The children were very happy when the little monkeys took apples from their hands, and when they could pet the ponies. Others, for example, managed the Tarzanka rope course. We were at a waterfall in the Carpathian Mountains. Even though it was raining, the children were happy to be in raincoats and then the sun came out. It was like an answer from heaven to their prayers. At the end of the stay, one little girl, Žofika, said that what she liked the most was the water in the shower and that the water was warm.
During the summer, you often complete reports for donors from Slovakia. However, children from the Mukachevo region often live in more remote villages and the journey to them can be challenging. How does the visit to these children take place?
Children from the Mukachevo region are located within a range of up to 250 kilometers. During the year, when I come to see them, the children are often at school or at a friend’s place where there is internet access, so that they can attend online classes together. In the summer, I try to plan my visits so that I can meet them and their parents personally. Several of them live in remote areas, so the journey to them takes a lot of time. After a certain point, you can only continue on foot because some of these children live in the woods. I know some of the children from crisis families through their teachers or caregivers, so first I have to arrange an appointment, and then visit the children together with them.
The children know when I‘ll come in advance, so they prepare their letters or drawings. We sit together, they bring me notebooks to show off how their studies are going, and we play. Alternatively, sometimes we go for a walk in the forest, and they show me where they pick up mushrooms. We drink coffee or tea together with their parents, we talk about what’s new, who managed to get a new job, and what problems they struggle with. Now, our talks revolve around the ongoing war, which has brought the greatest hardship to the poorest.
Within Ukraine, you don’t stay only in Transcarpathia. Which cities did you visit this summer as part of the humanitarian aid?
Since June, I have been in Kharkiv about seven times. We also visited the nearby towns of Lyman, Kramatorsk, Zarične, Kupjansk, Pishchane, Kostiantynivka, Dubrivka, and the villages around Barvinkového. We regularly assist families with many children and families that have taken orphans in their care. We have visited cities like Mykolaiv, Kherson, Partyzanske, Antonivka, and Olexandrivka several times. With each trip, I experience something that confirms that God is standing by us and protecting us. For instance, during my last trip to Mykolaiv, an acquaintance called me and asked if we could bring something to a lady who lives in Cherson with her son. I found her address, we bought groceries and got a watermelon for them. When I saw the immense joy in little Bohdanek and the gratitude of his mother, who had only half a cup of rice left on a shelf, I knew it was worth overcoming my fear and coming to Cherson just for them.
How does the distribution of humanitarian aid packages typically proceed?
When we bring humanitarian assistance to a village, we go from street to street, and we unload packages of food according to the number of residents. Particularly, when older people come to collect their aid, we also try to talk to them and listen to their needs. Many of them need a comforting hug or a shoulder to cry on. Last time at Lyman’s, it was very emotional when a grandmother approached me. She told me that she knows that I come to them more often, and if I could bring her a winter jacket next time because almost all her belongings were destroyed after a grenade strike. It was about 31 degrees outside, and the sun was scorching, but they were already afraid of what would the winter bring…
You travel to several regions of Ukraine. How many kilometers have you traveled since the beginning of summer and what motivates you during the long journeys?
I have traveled approximately 30,000 kilometers since the beginning of the summer. Each trip is about 3 to 3.5 thousand kilometers, but there were journeys when we covered up to five thousand kilometers in five days. We go in teams of two, three or five. What motivates us is the knowledge that together we can do good for those who are suffering. Depending on every situation, we may take three cars. Sometimes, we drive for 16 to 19 hours with about two breaks for coffee and refueling. The great source of motivation is that we travel to specific people. When I imagine the familiar faces marked by fear, pain, and suffering, but also joy, and the fact that someone will come to them again and again, I am ready to overcome fatigue or any other difficulties during the journey. On our last trip to Kupjansk, one elderly man cried when we brought him a loaf of bread. He kissed it and said that the last time he ate bread was a month ago when we gave it to him. That is why I am happy to travel to these people again and again and bring a message of God’s love.