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Ukrainian Orthodox Mission Team travels to orphanages in Ukraine

February 17, 2005, 0:00 3689 The Ukrainian Weekly

SOUTH BOUND BROOK, N.J. - The nine-member Orphanage Mission Team to Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. returned to their homes in the United States. For two weeks, six young adults worked and played with the orphans, assisted the orphanage staff in their daily responsibilities and observed the state and needs of the homes for handicapped orphaned children.

Two years ago, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. in coordination with the Children of Chornobyl Relief Fund (CCRF) adopted two orphanages in Ukraine. An orphanage in Znamianka, Kirovohrad Oblast, and another in Zaluchia, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, were selected because the homes were in particularly deplorable condition, housing children with physical and mental birth defects. The mission journey was organized by the Consistory Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, whose director is Natalie Kapeluck, with the assistance of the Office of Missions and Christian Charity, directed by Father Deacon Dr. Ihor Mahlay - both of whom were participants in the missionary trip.

In Znamianka, where 90 children live, the Mission Team provided the children with basic physical therapy, playing with, cuddling and lovingly hugging as many of the children as possible. Several members of the team assisted in basic repairs at the facility. Others painted a mural in one of the classrooms. One day, the orphans were entertained by the presentation of the play "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" put on by all the members of the mission team.

A moving moment of the first week was the Baptism and Chrismation of 25 children of the orphanage. It was a particularly moving moment when members of the Mission Team and several members of the orphanage staff eagerly stepped forward to become sponsors - godparents - of these, God's special childen.

In Zaluchia, the Mission Team did it all again, at the orphanage that is home to 130 children. As in Znamianka, the vast majority of the children were born with physical and mental birth defects, such as Down syndrome or cerebral palsy.

This home is a former family estate built before World War II, still in need of some major improvements. A new roof, new bathrooms with multiple showers, sinks in every room and a laundry, along with new beds, mattresses and linens, all have been provided through the financial support of the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. Although many improvements have been made, much more needs to be done.

In both orphanages the team saw the blankets, pajamas and toys contributed through the efforts of Kathryn Kochenash of Holy Assumption Ukrainian Orthodox Parish, Northampton, Pa., and the many friends she enlisted to the collect such things. Mr. Kochenash was a participant in the October 2002 trip to Ukraine with Archbishop Antony. That delegation visited the Zaluchia Orphanage, and Ms. Kochenash was so moved by what she saw that she was compelled to conduct her own private fund drive.

The members of the team received a final request just prior to departure for Ukraine. Archbishop Antony asked jokingly if anyone had room in their luggage for a few items. They all laughed, but found a way to stuff into their checked and carry-on luggage over 200 Beanie Babies, which were donated to the children at the orphanages by Marilee Lesczuk of Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Parish, Trenton, N.J., from her own private collection. The team members were moved to see the children hugging their new "friends."

During their visits to the orphanages, the directors and staff were very hospitable and thankful for the Church's support and efforts - especially the actual physical presence and assistance of the Mission Team Members. The staff members were also open and frank about their difficulties and needs in providing for the children.

Not only did the administration of the orphanages provide meals and lodging for the Mission Team, but they took the team on cultural excursions. In Znamianka the members visited Chyhyryn-Subotiv, the home area of Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky. In Zaluchia the team visited Kosiv and the ethnographic bazaar in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains.

The mission team also spent a well-deserved relaxing day touring historic Lviv.

On the way back to Kyiv team members made a pilgrimage to the Pochayiv Monastery-Lavra, venerating the miraculous icon of the Mother of God and relics of St. Job. In Kyiv, the group visited the Pecherska Lavra, venerating the relics of many saints buried in the catacombs, St. Sophia Cathedral and St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral which has been magnificently restored with the support of many of faithful in the United States.

Deacon Ihor, in his capacity as director of MCC, and Olena Welhash, CCRF director in Ukraine, had an opportunity to observe the progress made by these two institutions, see the aid that has come from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.A. and evaluate indepth the future needs of the orphanages. The UOC-U.S.A. and CCRF have had a tremendous impact on the lives of these handicapped and orphaned children.

The team members in the missionary effort were the Very Rev. Taras Naumenko, Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, Palos Park, Ill.; Nicole Beck, Ss. Peter and Paul Parish, Palos Park, Ill.; John Charest, John Meschesin and Karen Meschesin of St. Michael Parish, Woonsocket, R.I.; Denise Spoganetz of St. Demetrius Parish, Carteret, N.J.; and Shannon Dombroziak, Protection of the Mother of God Parish, Dover, Fla.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, October 26, 2003, No. 43, Vol. LXXI

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