General News

Widowed by War

Posted on May 02, 2024 in: General News

Widowed by War

Knights-funded project brings psychological aid to the families of Ukrainian soldiers killed in combat


By Solomiia Karpiv


Nestled in the Kyiv region of Ukraine, the city of Fastiv is small in size, but it’s home to approximately 180 families of fallen Ukrainian soldiers. It’s also home to one of the most active K of C councils in the country, Sts. Borys and Hlib Council 17740. Led by their chaplain, Father Vitalii Martsyniuk, Council 17740 is well known in the region for its care for the most vulnerable victims of the war, including widows and orphans.

Now the Knights are working with STEP-IN, a Slovakian medical initiative specializing in humanitarian crises, to provide vital psychological support to women and children who have lost loved ones.

The initiative began with a pilgrimage for families of fallen soldiers that the council organized last year. A psychologist accompanied the group to Zarvanytsyia, home to the largest Marian shrine in Ukraine, and was available throughout the pilgrimage for anyone who wanted to talk.;

“This is how the idea was born that it would be good to have consistent psychological support,” said Father Martsyniuk. “Those wounds are so deep that it is not easy to just let them go. They feel the touch of God [in confession], but it is very difficult for a person to cope with the trauma.”

Following a Christmas dinner for widows organized by Council 17740, the Ukraine State Council invited STEP-IN to lead a family psychological assistance project in the Fastiv community.

STEP-IN has been present in Ukraine since 2022 and has already implemented;several projects supported by the Knights of Columbus, including doctor training and mobile clinics in eastern Ukraine.

“The main goal and our mission is health and dignity for everyone,” explained Yuliia Luita, STEP-IN regional coordinator for this project. “We work in the field of both physical and mental health.”;

STEP-IN staff devised a program based on “Tuning in to Kids,” a parenting model developed by psychologists in Australia.

“This methodology is specifically aimed at teaching mothers to understand their children’s key emotions — especially those that children experience most because of the war and loss of a father: anger, fear, sadness — and help them cope with them,” Luita said.;

A professor from the University of Melbourne taught this methodology to three psychologists selected by STEP-IN, who then interviewed potential participants based on recommendations from Father Martsyniuk.

“We had a rather lengthy process of selecting women because not everyone is ready for group work,” Luita said. Women experiencing a severe, prolonged depression are not ideal candidates for this kind of therapy; others simply don’t feel comfortable in a group setting.

Eleven women and 16 children, aged 5 to 11, are now enrolled and meet with the psychologists both individually and in groups.

Father Martsyniuk said that the children drag their mothers to the sessions: “Even if adults are not ready, children are very eager. They just run to such meetings. It’s good for them to be with their peers.”

The project has grown and developed along the way. First, individual counseling was added to the group-based work. Then schools in Fastiv began asking the psychologists to teach classes to their students.

“The word got out that we are here and doing a lot of good. Now we also teach emotional intelligence to children’s groups in schools,” said Oleksandra Serdyuchenko, one of the psychologists involved in the project. “This is evidence of what is really needed. There has always been this demand and now even more.”

Liudmyla Rudiak, a participant of the group sessions, explained, “This group allows you to get to know each other — it’s easier to go through the loss together, because women talk about topics that are understandable to each other.”;

The effectiveness of the methodology, Rudiak added, is seen in practice: “This is very valuable knowledge. I see girls opening up.”;

In addition to helping widows cope with their grief, the project has given them strategies they will continue to use for years as they raise children without a father, said Iryna Musaieva-Levandovska, a widow and mother in the program.

“No mom can replace a dad. She is left alone with her child as if she was naked and defenseless,” emphasized Musaieva-Levandovska. “The child will grow up and will have more scars. That’s why this communication project is so important. And the more such projects there are to resuscitate such women, the better. A person needs a person!”

To learn more about Knights of Columbus work in Ukraine and to support those efforts, visit;kofc.org/ukraine.


SOLOMIIA KARPIV writes from Lviv, Ukraine.