Bombings and intense fighting in southern Ukraine will sadly halt the departure of the third “peace caravan” from Italy, scheduled for July 14-18, with destination Odessa and Mykolaïv. It was communicated to SIR by the promoters of the initiative #Stopthewarnow, a network of over 175 Italian associations, movements and organisations. The organisers recently took part in a mission to Lviv in April and organised a caravan that left for Odessa and Mykolaïv on 24 June, also joined by Msgr Francesco Savino, vice-president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference. A dozen vans and a truck loaded with humanitarian aid and volunteer workers. But the July ‘caravan’ was halted and postponed to the end of August. Father Tonio Dell’Olio, chairman of Pro Civitate Christiana in Assisi, explains: “All our activities and initiatives have been consistently carried out in agreement with our local partners. First and foremost with Caritas-SPES that operates in conjunction with a network of structures, including the military, which are better informed about the situation and thus know the actual circumstances and if our initiatives are feasible.
In this case, all reports unfortunately suggest a resumption of heavy fighting in the area. This is no surprise in light of the increasing shelling of the past few days. We therefore felt that not putting people’s lives at risk was a matter of common sense and of caution.”
Pope John XXIII Community’s non-violent peace corps Operation Dove is stationed in the city of Odessa. Its coordinator Alberto Capannini, who returned to Italy two days ago, told SIR that its volunteer workers travel to Mykolaiv at least once or twice a week to bring humanitarian aid. A video filmed a few days ago in a relief distribution centre, shows hundreds of people standing in line to receive their humanitarian aid package. Approximately 600 meals are distributed there every day, and a well provides a few thousand litres of water. Many elderly people have remained in the city. Residents have lost their jobs. Factories have been bombed and people queue up in the relief centres for food. “Air raid sirens are heard frequently in Odessa”, says Capannini, “with constant missile attacks, but the anti-aircraft system is very effective. By contrast, the city of Mykolaiv is located only 140 kilometres from the battlefront and the situation is much worse, because shelling happens every day, people are killed and buildings are destroyed. Furthermore, the front line changes rapidly. It’s a bad thing to say, but if Ukraine loses the Donbas, it loses something, but if it loses the coast and Odessa, then it loses everything: access to the sea which includes exports of goods and contacts with all the nations with which it enjoys trade relations. That is why the fighting in Mykolaiv, Kherson and Odessa is so vital for Ukraine. And that is also why we decided to travel there with the caravan, to say NO to the bombing of civilians.”
But people in Mykolaiv are not only dying from shelling and rubble. They also die of thirst. “Cutting off drinking water to the population at a time when, besides everything else, the temperature reaches 30/35 degrees, is inconceivable. It means forcing people into extreme hardship”, says Capannini. “When we were there – adds Fr Tonio Dell’Olio – people kept telling us, ‘we have no water, we have no water’.
They attacked water reservoirs and water supply networks. The Russians have a well-defined military strategy, which is to bring the population to its knees and somehow force the country to surrender.”
Associations adhering to the StopTheWarNow Coordination aim to support the local population in the construction of wells with desalination plants to convert sea water to drinking water. Support to this project can be given via the fundraising campaign launched by the Coordination. A Danish NGO specialised in this field is operating on site. “Last evening we learned that we already raised 11,000 EUR for the first of the four desalination plants we would like to install there,” Dell’Olio said with a smile.
“We are no longer leaving with the caravan, but we will continue being present”, promises Capannini. Father Dell’Olio points out: “we want to think that the July caravan has been postponed. Meanwhile, we are moving forward with many proposals being implemented. A “plethora of initiatives” are being planned, the organisers say. They range from efforts to build wells in Mykolaiv, to humanitarian aid for Caritas-Spes in Odessa, to the possibility of evacuating people from Kherson – the city seized by the Russians – helping them to reach the border and from there bring them safely into Italy “The next caravan is being planned for the end of August”, says Capannini. “But because of the war, any long-term plans are uncertain. There is also a fear that Mykolaiv could be captured by the Russians before long. To this end, a network of underground shelters is being constructed. The same is being done in Odessa. We are ready to resume the journey, in the meantime, war deprives human beings of space. Let us hope that we will be able to continue creating spaces for humanity in this desert created by war.”