Mercy at Work

Created: Jul 06, 2023
Category: General News

Knights of Columbus councils open parish Mercy Centers across Ukraine to aid victims of war

By Karolina Świder



In the weeks after Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022, invasion of Ukraine, hundreds of thousands of refugees poured across the border into Poland and were met by an outpouring of support. Polish Knights of Columbus set up heated tents where Ukrainians entering Poland — mostly women and children — received a warm welcome, food and drink. These Knights of Columbus Mercy Centers were soon expanded with assistance from the Order’s Ukraine Solidarity Fund, providing additional humanitarian aid and space for rest and prayer.

“We served 300,000 refugees at these centers,” explained Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly in the documentary In Solidarity with Ukraine, which premiered in February. “Our goal was to serve them in all their material needs, but also to help them spiritually and emotionally with the trauma that many of them had experienced.”

As time went on, the border tents were no longer needed, but the Knights established Mercy Centers at parishes in major Polish cities to help refugees settle and integrate into their new communities. However, many victims of the war stayed in Ukraine, and others have returned to their homeland. Since the beginning of the war, Knights throughout the country have distributed aid to displaced families and other affected civilians still living in Ukraine.

“The most organized were the Knights who lived in the occupied territories,” explained State Deputy Youriy Maletskiy at the Ukraine State Convention in Lviv in May. “They didn’t hide in basements or in bomb shelters. On the contrary, they often delivered this aid under fire.”

Ukrainian Knights have taken another step forward in recent months, opening parish-based Mercy Centers to serve waves of internal refugees seeking safety in the west as the front lines of the conflict continue to shift.


Russia’s systematic bombing of Ukrainian cities and infrastructure has caused tens of thousands of people to suffer from shortages of food, water and medicine. The new parish-based Mercy Centers in Ukraine are serving as distribution points for essential supplies. Over the past year, Knights in Poland prepared more than 200,000 care packages for distribution throughout Ukraine. Knights in Ukraine have been producing similar care packages since March. As in Poland, the packing has attracted enthusiastic volunteers; when members of the community were given an opportunity to help, they seized it.

Andriy Melnyk, a member of Mother of God Council 16891 in Vynnyky, near Lviv, organized the first care package initiative in Ukraine.

One such opportunity arose through the Order’s partnership with the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation: Mercy Centers were able to distribute wheelchairs for people with disabilities, who are particularly vulnerable in times of war.

One such opportunity arose through the Order’s partnership with the Canadian Wheelchair Foundation: Mercy Centers were able to distribute wheelchairs for people with disabilities, who are particularly vulnerable in times of war.

Another need stressed by the chaplains working in Mercy Centers is psychological help. The parish of Christ, King of the Universe in Khmelnytskyi organized psychological training workshops, where volunteers learned how to assist people traumatized by war, from soldiers who have experienced violent combat to people who spent weeks in dark bomb shelters. In Mercy Centers in Lviv, Kyiv and Fastiv, wives and children of fallen soldiers can participate in group therapy and receive spiritual support.

Russian strikes have also caused rolling blackouts, leaving many residents without heat or means of communication. In response, the Knights launched an initiative called “Powering our Parishes” to provide churches with generators. Virtually all parishes in Ukraine with a K of C council, more than 40 in all, now have back-up power thanks to the Ukraine Solidarity Fund.

“When we have a generator, we have light, we have heat. We can make hot tea and we can charge phones,” said Father Vitalii Martsyniuk, chaplain of Sts. Borys and Hlib Council 17740 in Fastiv, a city in the Kyiv region. “This past winter we had a lot of challenges, but we tried to overcome them together with our brother Knights.”


By providing for peoples’ most immediate material needs, parishes can also provide deeper consolation.

“People may need humanitarian aid,” said Father Martsyniuk, “but they also have spiritual needs, such as hope and love.”

The Order’s involvement in Ukraine, he added, differs from that of other aid agencies because its Catholic identity is intrinsic to its work. The name “Mercy Center” points to the Knights’ motivating force. Charity — not only humanitarian aid — was the goal of Blessed Michael McGivney, and charity is derived from and reflects the mercy and love of God. Such activity, infused by God’s grace, transforms both the recipient and the person who offers it. Christ’s words, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7), are a promise, as well as a mission.

Father Martsyniuk has seen the spiritual benefits among the Knights in his council. “The wives of my Knights told me that they do not recognize their husbands anymore,” he said. “Men who once didn’t want to pray at home with their children, now pray a whole rosary with their brother Knights!”

Knights in Ivano-Frankivsk, meanwhile, organized several weekend sessions of psychological support for combat veterans, in partnership with the International Catholic Migration Commission, a Vatican agency providing assistance and protection to the vulnerable. Confession was made available to the veterans, but during the first weekend no one chose to go. Over time, however, all of them took advantage of the sacrament. The wife of one of the veterans later admitted that she participated in the program only because she hoped to see her husband become reconciled with God.

The fruits of the Knights of Columbus Mercy Centers, both material and spiritual, testify to what faith-driven men can achieve when they are united by a fraternal community. By deepening their own faith and practicing works of mercy, they help bring their whole community closer to God.


KAROLINA ŚWIDER writes from Kraków, Poland.