Written by Xiulian Zhu, Shu Wei Chen, Wanzhen Cai
Translated by Hong (Ariel) Chan
Edited by Ida Eva Zielinska
“My observation today of the on-site distribution makes me teary, as this type of act of kindness is extremely rare, and I witnessed it for the first time in my life right here,” Arkadiusz Wiśniewski, Mayor of Opole in Poland, confided. He returned to Opole’s Stegu Arena a few days later, on July 29, 2022, to formally thank Tzu Chi for its aid to Ukrainians sheltering in the city, and award a Certificate of Appreciation to Master Cheng Yen.
At the same time, Tzu Chi volunteer Shu Wei Chen presented the Mayor of Opole with the equivalent of around USD 2,000 collected in bamboo banks across four days of aid distributions. The donations would be given to the Municipal Social Affairs Bureau, which designated the funds for the city’s Cancer Hospice Center.
Love in Action
Caring words to comfort with empathy, support in the spirit of one family, earnest prayers for blessings, and utmost sincerity were the essence of what Tzu Chi volunteers from several European nations arriving in Opole on July 24, 2022, brought. They went on to provide 12 aid distributions within four days, from July 26 to 29.
The staff of Opale’s municipal government offices, Ukrainian and Polish community volunteers, and Huiru Chen and Radosław Atlas, whose efforts were instrumental in bringing Tzu Chi’s aid to Opole, all contributed to the success of distributions over the four days. They handled every task responsibly and quickly, from registration and documentation to ceremonies and supplies distribution. And everyone smiled as they worked, like the warming sun in winter or a cooling breeze in summer.
The Sorrow of Separation
Each Ukrainian care recipient carried their story heavily, as it was painful to bear. The forlorn expressions on the faces of Angela, 26, and her 55-year-old mother, Victoria, spoke volumes about the sorrowful realities back in their hometown, Kharkiv. “Russia took over our city, and my father and grandfather are still there,” Angela declared.
As she spoke, her eyes welled up with tears, and her mother, sitting beside her, sobbed. Angela told Tzu Chi volunteers that her husband was still in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and they missed each other intensely. They wished wholeheartedly that the war could end so their family could reunite and no longer have to endure the sorrow of separation.
“Tzu Chi’s distribution touched us deeply. We’re grateful to have met Tzu Chi, and Tzu Chi volunteers’ altruism during our toughest times comforted us,” Angela told the volunteers. As the mom and daughter left the distribution venue, one could see a glimpse of hope and happiness, easing the deepening burrows of worry on their faces.
Volodymyr and Natalia are a couple from Rivne, Ukraine, with five children, including ten-year-old Illia, six-year-old Danyiil, four-year-old Liana, and two-year-old Maksim, and the youngest Aneta, born two months ago in Poland. Natalia told the volunteers that their whole family moved to Poland four months ago, forced to leave their beautiful homeland. “The bombed airport was only six miles away from my home. Gas stations were also being bombed. Our entire family was living in fear every day.”
Their stress and panic are still raw, yet they welcomed the experience of being at a Tzu Chi aid distribution: “We feel extreme blissfulness today. The entire event routine was incredibly heartwarming; the volunteers were so kind, wearing a smile on their faces. Your sincere kindness and gentle greetings truly moved us. We have so much gratitude; thank you, Tzu Chi.”
Connecting Through Empathy
The Ukraine-Russia war has been going on for five months, depriving many Ukrainians of their homes and everything they’ve ever owned. Those who fled their homeland escaped in anguish and terror, the trauma leaving a lasting mark.
Tzu Chi volunteer Wanzhen Tsai, who lives in Germany, admitted that after meeting a young Ukrainian mother, she better understood the trauma caused by war. Easily frightened and lacking a sense of security, even the woman’s children chose to cling to their mom rather than play in the park. “I have a family, kids, in-laws, friends, relatives; we all hope for peace. But for these suffering refugees, this is a luxury. We hope that Tzu Chi volunteers’ warming camaraderie can soothe the hearts of these displaced women, seniors, and children.”
Yet, amid all the distress, Wanzhen also discovered moments to smile. “One thing that warmed my heart was seeing an elderly lady with a slight walking disability holding onto her crane as a social worker interacted with her. As they were about to leave, I approached the lady to say hi and help her walk out. I didn’t expect that 15 minutes later, she would show up in front of me and ask for a photo together while gesturing, ‘thank you.’ She was so sweet.”
Heartfelt Community Support
Tzu Chi volunteers serve in the spirit of “unconditional kindness, treating others as you want to be treated.” The community volunteers from Poland and Ukraine who helped during the distributions also genuinely shared this attitude and worked hard, glad they could participate in the aid mission.
Szymon Wach, a 19-year-old Polish volunteer responsible for preparing Tzu Chi’s eco-blankets blankets for distribution over four consecutive days and sometimes filling in for other tasks, was thankful he could help Ukrainians alongside Tzu Chi volunteers. “Although I felt really tired at the end of the distribution, with my legs and back slightly sore and uncomfortable, I was very happy to be part of it and help Ukraine,” he said.
Szymon believes that it’s everyone’s responsibility to help Ukraine as much as possible because they might also need help in return in the future, “I hope to be treated like that.”
Ukrainian volunteer Natalia arrived at the distribution site early one morning and took out a bamboo bank to give to Tzu Chi volunteers, saying it belonged to her six-year-old grandson Casper. Natalia said she felt moved when she saw the respect and love that Tzu Chi volunteers show the Ukrainian people. Young Casper was also inspired and told his grandmother he wanted to donate what he’d been saving for three years to help others. Natalia delivered this news and a bamboo bank filled with the little boy’s savings.
Kateryna, another Ukrainian volunteer, brought her two-year-old child with her to the distribution site each of the four days and described how helping out was such a joyful task. The Ukrainian volunteers knew better than anyone about the suffering of their compatriots. As such, they did their best to make the distributions go smoothly.
When Tzu Chi volunteer Yaqian Pan, from Italy, shared with the Ukrainian volunteers that all the bamboo bank donations from the past few days would go to the Opole Cancer Hospice Center, they felt touched. Many communicated how they identified with Master Cheng Yen’s philosophy of giving and made it a point to collect as many donations during the distributions as possible.
Expressions of Gratitude
Knowing that July 29 was the last day of distribution, many Ukrainians who had already received aid also came to participate in this final gathering in Opale’s Stegu Arena. Everyone was solemn and attentive when the volunteers played “From Vow to Action,” a brief video introducing Master Cheng Yen and the history of Tzu Chi. Then, Katya, the person designated to share the letter of condolences from Master Cheng Yen with the crowd, lowered her head as she read, her eyes red with tears as the moving words resonated in her heart.
In order to convey sincere gratitude to Tzu Chi for this continuous flow of aid over four days, some Ukrainians used gestures, joining their fingers to create a heart shape with their hands, a universal symbol of love. Others found different ways to say thank you. Holding a box in her hand, Marina came to the distribution site with her husband Zhenya and their four children. Inside the box were cakes she had baked for Tzu Chi volunteers to express the family’s thanks.
One little girl drew two hearts in the colors of the Ukrainian flag and wrote “Most Sincere Blessings to Tzu Chi.” Her message, displayed near a photo of Master Cheng Yen, delighted reporters who circulated it in local media. Among all the expressions of thanks, Huiru Chen also sent gifts to all the Ukrainian volunteers who helped during the distributions.
One Mission Accomplished, More Ongoing
Tzu Chi provided four consecutive days of aid, comprising 12 distributions, for Ukrainians sheltering in Opole, Poland. With temperatures in the region at this time of year dropping to lows below 60°F, the eco-blankets distributed were also a welcome gift. As volunteers noticed how one Ukrainian child, twelve-year-old Diana, happily wrapped herself in one after receiving it, they wished for its warmth to remain in her heart forever.
Everyone hopes that the Ukraine-Russia war will end soon. But in the meantime, Tzu Chi’s assistance for displaced Ukrainians in Europe will continue as long as needed. The aid distributed in Opole was only possible because of the love of people from around the world donating to help displaced Ukrainians. We invite you to add your support to help shelter and bring relief to Ukrainian families during these most difficult times.