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Dec 10th
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Home Global Activities Asia Tzu Chi Helps Elderly Ukrainians in Lublin, Poland

Tzu Chi Helps Elderly Ukrainians in Lublin, Poland

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"You guys are so good looking!" 74-year-old grandfather Nadien Finatdii and 65-year-old grandmother Nadien Katherzna from Kharkiv, Ukraine praised the Taiwanese students and Ukrainian volunteers who came to visit and care for them. Their remarks immediately dissolved the sense of unfamiliarity, and the atmosphere relaxed.


Unsustainable Life in Foreign Land

In August in Lublin, the temperature during the day is mostly in the 20's degrees Celsius (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit), comfortable and pleasant. The two elders had a sad look on their friendly faces. They talked eloquently about what happened after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

"In the early days of the war, our apartment in the city center was hit by missiles, and our home was completely destroyed. At the moment when the humanitarian corridor opened, I came to Lublin with my daughter, grandson, passport, and a few remaining summer clothes, without hesitation." They showed the bombed apartment on their phone -- the once beautiful home is now in ruins.

Even though they had been safe for a few months, they still had lingering fears; the two grandsons were frightened by the missiles and the army, and were still very afraid of strangers. So the volunteers interacted with them at the door of the shelter.

Grandma Nadien Katherzna has breast cancer and is undergoing chemotherapy; Grandpa Nadien Finatdii and their daughter have vision and heart problems. They hoped to stay in Poland and receive follow-up treatment for cancer. They tried hard to find a job, but, due to language and physical inconvenience, could not; they had to seek assistance from charities.

During the conversation, they demanded nothing of the volunteers, but their experiences made the volunteers very sad. They hoped they could do something to comfort their minds and bodies. Anastasiia, the task coordinator of the Caritas Volunteer Group, comforted them in their familiar Ukrainian language. Gradually, they opened their hearts and spoke more of their anguish and helplessness.

Story of Tetiana Kunieieva

This old couple’s difficulty is just the tip of the iceberg of all the Ukrainians who have fled. The people who have escaped from Ukraine are mostly old, young, and weak women and children.

A 65-year-old Tetiana Kunieieva, also from Kharkiv, took refuge in the basement in the early days of the war; the sound of bombardment shook the building incessantly. Seeing that the war was raging, at the suggestion of her niece, it took less than 30 minutes for her to pack up simple clothes. Then she fled with her niece and came to Lublin.

Tetiana has diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer and bronchitis. Due to her late arrival time, she missed the chance to receive the assistance of Tzu Chi gift card or cash card, and could only rely on the Polish government's monthly relief fund of 300 Polish Zloty (about US$ 60).

As she talked, her sadness came out, and she burst into tears. Anastasiia came up to give her a warm hug and asked her to take care of herself. Tetiana dried her tears and thanked the volunteers for their care and condolences.

Plan to Aid the Elderly

From April to July, Tzu Chi launched a series of emergency aid projects in Lublin; they distributed gift cards and blankets. The war had become a stalemate, and the volunteer team led by Tzu Chi Germany-based volunteer Chen Shu-wei was thinking of a mid-term plan to "aid the Ukrainian elderly". In August, they went to different various shelters and resettlement sites and visited those who had escaped from Ukrainian villages to learn more about their needs; they made records.

After several visits, the volunteers found that there were at least 102 elderly Ukrainians in need of assistance. Caritas officially sent a letter in August asking for Tzu Chi's assistance. It said: "Dear Master Cheng Yen and the Buddhist Tzu Chi Charity Foundation, thank you for helping the Ukrainian refugees in Lublin. Tzu Chi volunteers cared for the welfare of the Ukrainians from the bottom of their hearts. Their sincerity and great love moved us very much, and also inspired our cooperation with the Buddhist Tzu Chi Charity Foundation, which truly shows that we are a family ..."

Caritas is affiliated with the Catholic Church, while Tzu Chi is a Buddhist organization. Theirs is a cross-religious cooperation to help the elderly who are unable to find work and support themselves due to their age and health conditions. Such cooperation is truly meaningful.

After reading the home visit reports, volunteers could not bear to see that the elderly who had left their homes could not make a living in Poland. The team decided to start in September in the Tzu Chi office of the Lublin Provincial Cultural Center a distribution of materials worth about 500 Polish Zloty to each elder every 10 days for six months. In addition to the distribution, Anastasiia would lead local Ukrainian volunteers and international student volunteers in home visits every two weeks to continue to care for the elderly.

Give Themselves Joyfully and Willingly

On September 13, Chen Shu-wei, who had temporarily returned to her home in Germany, drove from Munich. After meeting Austria-based volunteer You Yue-ying, she drove about 1,500 kilometers and finally arrived in Lublin in the middle of the night.

On the morning of September 14, the volunteers gathered at the Caritas Tzu Chi office to discuss the items and packaging methods for purchasing materials. They decided to buy reusable bags that are easy to use and can be recycled many times. After inquiries, they found that there was a shopping bag in the IKEA store that met their needs, and they immediately drove to purchase them.

On September 15th, although the number of volunteers was not many, they divided their labor and cooperated with each other to give full play to their talents.

Anastasiia and Ding Jian-zhe, an international student who has graduated and is staying in the local area, discussed the content of the distribution form and the distribution process; Ukrainian volunteer Iren contacted and reminded the elderly to receive the relief supplies on Monday (9/19), one by one in the office.

The eco-friendly bags the volunteers bought were simple and beautiful. They were big and blue, and very close to Tzu Chi's culture. International student volunteers Lu Jia-lin, Lu Zong-han, and Liu Zhen-yi affixed the Tzu Chi logo in the center of the bag.

After a busy day, You Yue-ying presented the multi-grain biscuits made by the Masters of Jing Si Abode in Taiwan to convey Master Chen Yen's gratitude to everyone. The volunteers who gave without asking anything in return took a group photo happily as a souvenir after receiving the unexpected gifts.

The Effect of Kindness

Caritas Father Łukasz Mudrak came to take care of the distribution work. In addition to thanking Tzu Chi for helping the Ukrainian elderly in Lublin, he promised to do his best to cooperate and assist the distribution team.

It was time for a break. The hotel where Chen Shu-wei and You Yue-ying were staying was full, so the hotel staff eagerly arranged for the volunteers to stay at a hotel in the suburbs.

As soon as they entered the restaurant, one of the counter staff, Viktoria, immediately recognized them as Tzu Chi volunteers and welcomed them very warmly. It turned out that she and her mother had received the Biedronka gift card issued by Tzu Chi. Viktoria was very happy to see Tzu Chi volunteers again and thanked them in person. Tzu Chi volunteers were also happy that she could find a stable job and support herself.

We Are Family

On September 18, Sunday, more international student volunteers participated in packaging the material. With sincerity, they arranged each step in an orderly way and neatly put 17 basic living supplies into the distribution bags.

On September 19, the simple and solemn distribution venue was ready. Before the distribution, the volunteers introduced the history of Tzu Chi's charity work, “Fifty Years on the Bodhisattva Path". Then they gave a sign-language presentation of "We Are Family"; it very much touched everyone’s pure nature and conveyed deep love and care. Some elderly people followed with their own sign language; some frequently wiped away tears, and some put their hands together in silent prayer reverently.

After the ceremony, the volunteer team bent down and respectfully distributed supplies to the 54 elderly people. They received the heavy supplies, thinking that they would no longer have to worry about having nothing to cook in the next few days. Their faces showed the most beautiful and reassuring smiles.

A Ukrainian grandma got the distribution package and happily took out tomatoes and apples, telling the volunteers that these were her favorite vegetable and fruit. She knew that there was a strong earthquake in Taiwan over the weekend. In addition to thanking volunteers again and again, she sincerely wished for Taiwan to be safe and sound.

Anastasiia, who is caring and very involved in her work, pointed out that the Ukrainian elders cannot find jobs in Poland and live in hardship. She is very grateful to Tzu Chi volunteers for their willingness to cooperate with Caritas to distribute; and she is very grateful to Tzu Chi for everything that it has done for these elderly people.

Volunteers Give Strong Support

Lu Zong-han and Lu Jia-lin are siblings and international students. They seized the chance to give. Lu Zong-han said: "I am very happy to have the opportunity to participate in the distribution. Today, the recipients are socially disadvantaged. They are relatively unaided by the Polish government or taken care of by other NGOs. These elderly people received supplies such as noodles, oil, bread, vegetables, fruits and potatoes, and are very grateful to Tzu Chi.”

Lu Jia-lin was very happy to be with her brother and good friend Liu Zhen-yi. She said: "These elderly people are relatively disadvantaged in society and are less able to work and earn money, so I think today's activities are very meaningful." Liu Zhen-yi said: "I am also very glad to be able to participate in today's event, because the socially disadvantaged have no one to take care of them, and they have to go through many ways to find help. Tzu Chi discovered this problem and distributed materials to help them, which is particularly meaningful."

Another volunteer Ding Jian-zhe listened attentively every time he paid home visit and helped to record the conditions of the elderly people at home. He was deeply moved: "Today, the first distribution of supplies to the Ukrainian elderly people was held in Lublin. The bags were full of food. Several of them sincerely prayed for Taiwan after knowing that there was an earthquake there. They held my hand and comforted me. I am very happy to be able to participate in the distribution and help the elderly.”

"I am really touched to see the international students and Ukrainian volunteers prepare all the things and undertake the work so hard, and I am very grateful for their efforts," said You Yue-ying, who has returned to Lublin to assist in the distributions time and time again. She is like a Grandmother to the international students.

The three were predestined to meet each other. Driven by kindness, You Yue-ying, Chen Shu-wei, and Ding Jian-zhe have formed a deep bond with Tzu Chi. They are the so-called "powerful trio" who devised the plan to distribute goods to the elderly.


"Volunteers, it's great to have you!" Let us applaud them vigorously, thank them for their courage to take responsibility and give peace and security to the Ukrainian elderly people living in a foreign country, and we are infinitely grateful to them!

2022/09/21 Zhu Xiu-lian, Chen Shu-wei Report from Europe


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