ROME – As part of Italy’s ongoing effort to support Ukrainian refugees, the country’s government, in partnership with the Italian bishops’ conference, is hosting a group of children and adults accompanying them for the summer, offering them a beach holiday in several seaside towns.
In an Aug. 12 communique, the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) announced that 42 Ukrainian children and adolescents will be coming to Italy from the cities of Nikopol and Kryviy Rih in Dnipropetrovsk in Ukraine.
They will be dispersed among the Italian beach towns of Senigallia, Ascoli Piceno and Macerata along the central-eastern coast for the remainder of the summer, with the help of the local communities and diocesan Caritas branches in the area.
Supported by CEI, the Vatican embassy in Ukraine and the Italian government, the initiative was described by CEI as being “a further sign of solidarity of the Church in Italy with the Ukrainian population.”
It is the latest in a series of similar initiatives which so far have allowed more than 600 children and adolescents from Ukraine to spend a few weeks in calmness and serenity, far away from the war and suffering ravaging their country.
Since the beginning of Italy’s summer period, various “solidarity holidays” have been organized with the involvement of various actors, including Ukraine’s two Caritas branches, the Greek Catholic-run Caritas Ukraine and the Roman Catholic-run Caritas Spes, as well as the European Nonviolent Action Movement (MEAN).
Caritas Italy has partnered with both Caritas Spes and Caritas Ukraine in providing emergency and ongoing aid to Ukraine and to Ukrainian refugees who have fled the war.
In 2022, Caritas Italy responded to a request from Ukraine’s Caritas branches to allow 200 children to come for vacation, before the resumption of fall school activities.
Given the success of the initiative, it was repeated this year with the help of not only Caritas and local dioceses, but also the Association of Italian Christian Workers in providing room and board, as well as recreational and entertainment activities for the children who come and the adults who accompany them.
Since the war in Ukraine erupted following Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion last year, some 12 million people have fled Ukraine, according to the United Nations, with surrounding nations such as Poland, Moldova, Romania, and Slovakia taking in the bulk of the refugees.
Italy was among the first European countries to offer access to support services under the European Union’s Temporary Protection Directive, extending this access to some 150,000 Ukrainian refugees.
Italy has so far taken in over 170,500 Ukrainians since the war began last February, most of whom are women and children.
In particular, Italy has welcomed children who are ill and in need of ongoing medical treatment, allowing these children and their families to come and receive medical care at the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù children’s hospital, as well as other prominent facilities such as Rome’s Gemelli Hospital.
The EU has granted Ukrainians the right to stay and work throughout its 27-member nations for up to three years. Refugees who flee to European countries are housed in temporary reception centers, if they are unable to stay with friends or relatives, and are given food, medical care, and information about how to travel onward.
Given their status, they are entitled to social welfare payments and are allowed access to housing, the national healthcare systems, and education.
Since the beginning of the conflict, around three million Ukrainians who initially fled have returned to Ukraine, most of whom go to the capital city of Kyiv or other cities near the western border.
Speaking of this year’s “solidarity holidays,” Italian Father Marco Pagniello, director of Caritas Italy, said, “These children certainly dream of peace and of returning to a serene life, of going to school, or being able to embrace their friends again, and even their fathers who are currently at war.”
“Many of these children come from orphanages and in them there is also the hope of being able to dream, finally, of a family,” he said, saying this summer’s initiative follows others “realized in the past for situations of extreme difficulty, such as after the Chernobyl disaster.”
Pagniello said there are plans to expand help to Ukrainian youth, saying, “next year we want to promote a project guaranteeing the protection and safety of Ukrainian children.”
Similarly, Pina Giuliani, a volunteer working in the small seaside Italian town of Jesi, said, “Those for whom we have opened our arms are not just any 36 people, but mothers and children from Ukraine to whom we will try to give a few days of serenity in our area.”
“While we await their arrival, a phrase from the song of [Francesco] Guccini came to mind: ‘But look at how many stars up in the sky scattered in an incalculable way.’ I am sure that they will light up our live by giving us its meaning,” she said.
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