Over the past weeks, the international media has been reporting about an escalating political situation in Ukraine, which is now close to a civil war. The government has launched a massive military offensive on the insurgent-controlled parts of Eastern Ukraine, using heavy weaponry, aviation, and troops to subdue their resistance. Many ISKCON centers and hundreds of devotees are also seriously affected by the conflict.
As the situation in Eastern Ukraine escalates and the number of devotee refugees seeking help increases, the worldwide ISKCON community shows an outpouring of support.
“When the military operations intensified our home turned out to be on the front line. Until the last moment, I had hoped that the war would be over soon.” They were not so lucky. When Lugansk got attacked by mortars and the neighboring street became a battlefield, it was time for Nilacala Dasi, her husband Vrajamani Das and daughter Vrinda Gopi to leave.
Recently, responding to the escalating humanitarian crisis in Eastern Ukraine, the Executive Commitee of ISKCON's Governing Commission released a letter addressed to the Ukrainian devotees affected by the challenging situation.
On July 24th, Abhinanda dasa reported that Alchevsk, a city between Donetsk and Lugansk in Eastern Ukraine, which had been relatively peaceful until now, looked like it would become the next battleground. “There is a large devotee population in Alchevsk”, he says. “If the conflict moves into Alchevsk, there may be many more devotees looking for refuge.”
Over the past few weeks the Ukrainian refugee crisis has intensified. Risking their lives, many more ISKCON devotees are trying to flee from the troubled region. One of ISKCON's refugee coordinators in the Donetsk region has been arrested by separatists.
Refugees who fled the turmoil in Eastern Ukraine made a video plea, where they hold a poster with the hashtag #DontKillUs.
Hundreds of ISKCON devotees, including families with small children, had been displaced and rendered homeless due to the military conflicts in Eastern Ukraine. Please help volunteers to provide them shelter.
"We have good news and bad news from Ukraine.The good news is that practically all devotees from the Lugansk region have been safely accommodated elsewhere. Devotees are still fleeing the Donetsk region. On August 28th, eight more devotees from Donetsk, including three children, were assisted into safer accommodations."
The shelter project for the devotees displaced in Ukraine has been going on smoothly over the past weeks. At this point, with the generous donations offered internationally, ISKCON Ukraine has raised enough to provide basic care and support for the devotees in need. Their focus right now is the development of buildings that will shelter devotees as the cold winter months quickly approach.
With temperatures falling to freezing at night, devotees are working as quickly as possible to erect a new building to shelter Vaishnava refugees in Ukraine. According to ISKCON leader Niranjana Swami, the current crisis in Eastern Ukraine forced many Ukranian devotees, including families with small children, to flee their homes.
With temperatures expected to fall below freezing in less than two weeks, getting the new shelter for Ukrainian devotee refugees up in double-quick time is more urgent than ever. The ten-room shelter, which is going up just outside of Kiev, will include a communal kitchen and a sawdust-fueled boiler for cost-effective heating and hot water. The property will also have four wells for water and septic.
UN data show that more than 300,000 refugees have tried to reach Europe so far this year. Of those, almost 200,000 landed in Greece and 110,000 in Italy. At the same time, some 2,500 migrants or refugees are estimated to have died or gone missing this year, trying to reach Europe. Civil organizations have stepped up to help refugees with medical aid, water or food.
We are not Muslims, Hindus, Jews or Christians. We are not Afghans, Syrians, Germans or Hungarians. We are all migrants on our journeys, seeking love, peace and happiness. -- A short film about the power of an act of humanity.
Created by: Janos Kapcsos, Laszlo Tas Balogh, Gandharvika Prema, Krisztina Danka.
With the European public completely divided over how to treat refugees poring in from war-torn countries, whether Europeans should welcome them or be afraid of them, likewise, being at the epicenter of the crisis, Hungarian devotees have also expressed their concerns about the issue. Sivarama Swami addresses some of these concerns.
Sivarama Swami talks about his personal experience as a refugee fleeing Hungary in 1956, about his recent encounters with Syrian refugees in Budapest, and about the ancient Indian scriptures' teachings of how to treat people who are "different" from us. A video created by Janos Kapcsos, Laszlo Tas Balogh, Gandharvika Prema and Krisztina Danka, Ph.D.
The World Peace Forum is a worldwide platform that brings together a large number of professionals of all backgrounds and from all corners of the Earth. Their recent meeting was held on October 2-3, 2015 in the European Parliament in Luxembourg and Germany, where ISKCON devotees were also invited.
When I lay down in my comfortable apartment in Budapest, all I could see are images of little children lying on the dirty floor of Budapest’s railway stations waiting for their transfer to a new, safer and better life.
“I remember being on a ship to New York and hearing that some Americans didn’t want to let us in because there were Nazi spies among us."
Regardless the politicians' agenda or the prevailing public opinion, in democracy, everyone has the freedom to follow their OWN moral compasses. A short film about aid workers of different spiritual backrounds, who, despite the hostile public environment, provided help to hundreds of thousands of refugees crossing Hungary in 2015.
A 2-minute short film entitled “Transit Point” featuring Hungarian ISKCON devotees taking care of refugees arriving from war-torn Syria is among the best ten in the video contest run by Faith Counts, an American multi-faith organization with mission is to promote the value of faith.
“These people have really been to hell and back,” he says. “And I knew it was most likely that they’d never had prasad before in their lives. So it was very gratifying to be able to give prasad to so many people who had never tasted it before," says Abhay Das.