“I will do my best to help these people” – how a port chaplain from Sailors’ Society is supporting people affected by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
“I used to watch the ships waiting to approach the pier from the window of my house. Now there are almost none. When ships do come, they hear the bombing in the distance and the seafarers ask: ‘When will peace come?’”
Reverend Victor Dudnyk has worked in the port of Mariupol as a chaplain for international maritime charity Sailors’ Society since 2000. Despite the ongoing conflict in the region, he has continued to carry out his duties in the port. This year, he has offered support to 6,282 seafarers.
When tensions in the Crimea heightened in 2014, ship owners generally advised crews not to go ashore at ports in eastern Ukraine and the isolation and welfare issues associated with a seafaring life were made all the more acute. At one point, Victor was even stopped from going about his work by armed terrorists.
“Life goes on and we continue our ministry,” he said.
Mariupol is one of the largest and most developed ports in Ukraine. As a result of the conflict, its shore is mined and navigating vessels into the port is a dangerous task.
“The ships enter the port carefully and once they’ve unloaded their cargoes and handled the formalities of registration, they leave. There’s not much time for conversation but the seafarers are glad to talk,” Victor said.
Port workers were evacuated from the city last year and although some facilities have returned to normal, anxiety is widespread.
Victor said: “Some people have returned but they are tired of the uncertainty. Thankfully the military are not shooting at the port but some of the seafarers’ relatives have been injured by the bombings.”
In 1987, when freedom to preach was granted in Ukraine, Victor became a pastor for the Baptist church.
Almost three decades later, his church is providing food, medicine and emergency shelter for those affected by the conflict.
He has also been caring for seafarers like Paul, whose house was bombed while he was home from a contract at sea. Badly injured by the explosion, Paul lost a foot and now relies upon Victor and the church for help.
“Paul lives in the church because he has nowhere else to go,” Victor added.
Victor has also helped people who have lost their documentation – necessary even for internal travel in Ukraine – in the destruction, like the nephew and niece of a seafarer who had no identification cards.
“The authorities were making them wait months to get the documents they need to travel within the country,” said Victor.
As a chaplain, Victor spoke to the authorities and was able to help the siblings get their identification documents within a week.
Sailors’ Society chaplains provide a range of support services to seafarers and their families and can often be one of the few new faces a seafarer will see during the months away from loved ones.
“Seafarers appreciate this support a lot; I will continue to help them in port and on land, despite the conditions. I live by faith, I will do my best to help these people.”
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