Continuation of Reflections on a Third Visit to Ukraine During a Time of War

Reflections on a 3rd visit to Ukraine torn apart by invasion and war:
ICMC Secretary General Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo during his third solidarity trip to Ukraine, visiting the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv and observing a photo exhibit of the experiences of people in local communities that have been victims of bombings. ©ICMC

17 October 2023:

Today was dedicated to dialogue and exchange with programs supported by ICMC with the Latin Catholic Archdiocese of Lviv and with exploration of new avenues of collaboration with the Ukrainian Catholic University, an impressive undertaking of the Greek Catholic Church. We started out the day by meeting the President of the University, the Assistant Director of the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) Section of the Psychology Department, and the Coordinator of the Development Department.

They spoke about the historical connections between Catholic education in Ukraine and former Patriarch and Major Archbishop of the Greek Catholic Church, Archbishop Andrey Shptysky, who also led the Archdiocese of Lviv until 1944. The Archbishop came from a prominent local family and dedicated his family’s economic resources to finding many educational and social services for poor and marginalized people in Ukraine. He also promoted inter-religious dialogue and made great efforts to protect Jewish people during the Nazi occupation of the country. He defended religious freedom in Ukraine when the country came under Soviet domination at the end of World War II. The library and multi-purpose building of the University are dedicated to the memory of this former Patriarch of the Greek Catholic Church.
The present site of the Catholic University is located where a centre for Societ Ideological Education had been established in former times. The University staff said they were sure that Archbishop Sheptysky is now smiling down on them from heaven since they are teaching students to respect God’s word and Jesus’ Gospel in a place where even the mention of God was not permitted under the Soviet regime.

Reflections on a 3rd visit to Ukraine torn apart by invasion and war: 1
ICMC Secretary General Msgr. Robert J Vitillo is presented a poster showing alumni of the Ukrainian Catholic University who have lost their lives since the beginning of the war. ©ICMC

The Rector and the faculty member from the Psychology Department were well aware of the partnership of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) and the Greek and Latin Catholic dioceses to promote and provide mental health and psychosocial support to internally displaced and other war-affected people in the country. They asked how they could partner with us – I told them of our efforts to raise more generous donations from our own supporters. Then we talked of the need to prepare for the long-term emotional and psychological effects of the war – even after peace has returned to the country (may God help us achieve that very soon!). They shared some of the research they are already doing on the impact of MHPSS programs and on the emotional and social impact of physical disabilities caused by loss of limbs and eyes as a result of bombing and landmines. We agreed to explore a partnership between ICMC’s humble efforts and the University’s technical and research expertise. Then they showed me a photo remembrance exhibit that they had set up to recall the memory of several university alumni who have died in the war – one photo was of a young father holding his infant son!

Christian Kostko, Manager of ICMC Projects in Ukraine, and Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, ICMC Secretary General, meeting with Fr. Oleg Salomon accompanied by his team of psychologists – supported by ICMC – who delivers mental health services to internally displaced persons and other populations affected by the war. Lviv, Ukraine. ©ICMC

Later, we met with Fr. Oleg Salomon, who is an amazing priest and overall person. He is a Scripture scholar and teaches Biblical studies at a local university. He coordinates two psychology hubs, which are being supported by ICMC to deliver counseling and treatment in several parts of Ukraine. He is a military chaplain and often goes to the battlefront to officiate at Mass for the soldiers and to counsel them and their families. He also trains spiritual directors and offers psychological testing and treatment to many individual clients. He is the pastor of a parish, which is located in a 17th-century edifice. All this, and he constantly smiles and is one of the most humble people I have ever met!

Fr. Oleg invited some of his fellow psychologists and some students to join us. They thanked ICMC and its donors for our support to their work and were especially grateful for the training we funded – which involved experts from Germany and the United Kingdom – who helped them refine their knowledge and skills in trauma treatment and in the prevention of suicide (a very real risk in today’s Ukraine). Several of the psychologists told me that they combine classical psychological theory with a Christian approach to psychotherapy. I asked them what they meant… They responded most readily – that their work is based on the belief that every person is created in the image and likeness of God and that God gives them inner strength to confront their daily challenges, including that of war in their country, and that God also shows them how to share his love with others and to build productive and rewarding relationships with others. It was so good to meet professionals who speak of their own faith and who recognize and affirm the spiritual part of every human person – in addition to their bodies, emotions, native intelligence, and dignity.

We ended the day by receiving hospitality for dinner at the home of Archbishop Mieczysław Mokrzycki, leader of the Latin Catholic Church in Lviv. This bishop is fully aware and deeply saddened by the suffering caused to the Ukrainian people due to the invasion of February 2022, including the massive displacement of people within the country and the exodus of millions more Ukrainians to neighboring and even more distant lands. He also showed much interest in the mental health programming being done by professional psychologists in his archdiocese and expressed much thanks to ICMC and its donors for our partnership with the Church in Ukraine.

Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo*

* Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo is Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission.


Get ICMC’s Monthly Newsletter
See What You Will Get (Past Issues)


ICMC provides assistance and protection to vulnerable people on the move and advocates for sustainable solutions for refugees and migrants.