Ukraine's ongoing conflict with Russia has transformed the city of Zaporizhzhya into a fortress, stressing residents with the constant threat of bombing.

The Mennonite Benevolent Society (MBS) has operated a family center in the city since 2002, taking a three-pronged approach to community outreach.

"Our major program is a home care program where we offer help to mostly seniors and mostly widows who are still living on their own with a little bit of help," says Winnipeg resident, Louie Sawatzky, a Project director for the society. "They are able to stay in their apartments. We provide the kind of help that they need. For some, we provide cleaning, we provide food services - preparation of food. We help them with hygiene issues and dressing wounds."

Sawatzky says their home care provides a wide range of services for up to 120 clients at any given time. The society also provides 24-hour respite care and a day program to provide social interaction.  

"Again, mostly [for] widows [who] are living independently but need social interaction. They may have family somewhere, but they're lonely. We invite them to come into the center one day a week. They eat together. They sing together. They have Bible study and socialize and form a support group for each other. So, in total in a week we have about 40 ladies that come in the five days."

The main programs are supplemented with financial support for a program for children with special needs and for a widows House of Mercy in nearby Russian-controlled territory.

Clients comes to the family center through referrals from local churches.

"We started off that way, working through the contacts through the churches," explains Sawatzky. "But it's much broader than that now. Since we've been there for 20 years, we have people referred to us by the city social agencies, by word of mouth from former clients or current clients, from many other people."

The war with Russia has now forced the center to scale back its operation.

"We have had to suspend our day program now because of constant air raid sirens and the stress of that. But as winter comes, we will be looking at how we can support our clients in whatever they need, whether it's food or clothing. And in that regard, we have been sending clothes from Canada, clothing and blankets that we will distribute to clients."
While the city has been spared the heaviest bombardment, Sawatzky says the war has taken its toll in other ways.  

"Even though some of Zaporizhzhya itself has not been hit as hard as some of the other cities and communities, the threat of bombing is always there. The city has received many rockets and bombs with people being killed, even though the Ukraine military has been able to intercept most of them. But the threat is there, no one is safe, and we have a staff of 32 people is always under stress, and clients as well."

On a daily basis, center staff and clients have to deal with shops closing when air raid sirens go off, rotating power shortages, check stops and a lack of heating to fight the winter cold.  

With poverty being a constant issue in Ukraine, especially for senior citizens living with meager pensions and rampant inflation, Sawatzky says currently their biggest need is providing Ukrainians with financial aid to help in the purchase of basic necessities like food. 

Monetary donations can be sent to to The Mennonite Benevolent Society, 1045 Concordia Avenue, Winnipeg, MB, R2K 3S7.  A tax receipt will be issued.

Sawatzky adds that his daily contact with the Center's local director in Ukraine sends a vital message to Ukrainians that they are not forgotten.