Boxes of donated baby diapers are loaded in Brodheadsville, ultimately destined for Ukraine.

BRODHEADSVILLE — “War is hell!” is the oft-repeated refrain of those who know first-hand about the brutality of international conflict.

Some say it is even worse than hell, since war also claims innocent victims along the way. None are more innocent than children, especially those already suffering from severe disabilities.

As war continues to rage in Ukraine, Sandie Flannery has been a much-sought after voice greatly valued by news media outlets throughout our region, given her closeness to the ever-devolving crisis.

Seven years ago, Flannery established the Ukrainian Orphan Outreach Ministry at her parish of Our Lady Queen of Peace in Brodheadsville. Since that time the ministry has provided much-needed aid to destitute Ukrainian orphan children and young adults — many greatly challenged physically and emotionally, and, under normal circumstances, subject to deplorable conditions.

Visit Plans Canceled

The ministry’s humanitarian efforts have led Flannery many times to the Eastern European country, which she had planned to visit once more at the beginning of this year.

“I wanted to spend Ukrainian Christmas with the orphans in January, but friends and family begged me not to go due to the threat of war,” she recalled. “I reluctantly canceled my plans and disappointed my friends and the orphans. In hindsight, I wish I had gone as it saddens me that I may never be able to visit with them again!”

During the first days of the war, Flannery reached out to the director of the orphanage in Zulachchia in Western Ukraine regarding the safety of the children. “A dear friend, Anton, who has helped our ministry coordinate some of our projects, together with Sister Metodyia, and a Ukrainian parent of a child with Mowat Wilson syndrome — like my daughter — who was now living in Poland, developed an evacuation plan,” she noted.

“The orphans from Zulachchia are near and dear to my heart and I pray for their safety,” Flannery continued. “If necessary, our ministry will help with the costs of evacuating them safely over the border and supporting them where they are. We will also help with food and basic supplies.”

She remarked that the ministry is also committed to paying for gasoline for the buses, if necessary, to evacuate the most involved and medically complicated orphans in Znamenka. The Ukrainian Catholic Church of New Jersey has been supporting Znamenka for more than 20 years and has evacuated 30 of the higher functioning children and adults.

Desperate Cries for Help

Recently, Flannery received an urgent message from one of the directors of the Baby House in Vorzel, north of Irpen in Ukraine. The Baby House was home to 55 children from infancy to age five, many of whom were disabled with severe medical complications.

“The town was bombed and surrounded by the Russians,” Flannery explained. “She was pleading for my help. As the days went on, her cries became more desperate. She talked of having no heat, electricity, and water. She was not in the building with the babies when the military invaded.”

Flannery noted there were 23 babies with two staff in one building, and 27 children and five workers in another.

“During this time, a mother whom I knew, reached out to me. I knew her from when she adopted two babies with Down syndrome from there 12 years ago,” she said. “Through my contacts with the orphanage personnel, and my friend’s contacts at the UN and the International Red Cross, God moved mountains and the babies were evacuated.  At the bridge crossing in Irpen, they were met by the Ukrainian Red Cross and transported to a hospital in Kyiv where they were treated, bathed and fed.”

The following day all were transported by train to Lviv and then to Chernivsti in Western Ukraine, and just days ago the head educator met up with them and they were ready to depart the war-torn country.

“Our ministry is ready to support the babies and staff financially once a secure connection is made. Many of the staff sacrificed their own safety and could have abandoned the children, but they did not,” Flannery noted. “Currently, we have no idea how the Department of Social Policy will be handling the situation and I want to be sure that the babies and staff have what they need.”

Nadiia’s Plight

Prior to the war’s outbreak on Feb. 24, Flannery shared that she had been “begging” her translator Nadiia to leave Ukraine, along with her husband Yarek and their baby daughter Ivanka, due to the buildup of the Russian military in the north in Belarus.

“Like most other Ukrainians, they thought that I was overreacting and that they were under the threat of war since 2014 and were not concerned,” she explained. “I pushed her to get her baby’s passport which they received only the week before the war!”

Ultimately, Nadiia and Ivanka had to leave their husband and father behind as they were about to cross the border into Romania.

Flannery currently is sponsoring Nadiia for her visa and has even offered her home 5,000 miles away to provide comfort and love to her and her baby daughter. As of now, Nadiia’s application for an “emergency visa” appointment was denied and she now must wait until May 23 for an appointment in Lithuania.

“She has been my travel companion and translator and has kept me out of trouble numerous times,” Flannery said. “She is a dear friend and like a daughter to me.”

Donations, Prayers Needed

Flannery has been effusive in her praise and gratitude for the support she has received from her fellow parishioners. With the blessing of Queen of Peace pastor Father Bob Simon, a massive parish and community drive is well underway to collect over-the-counter medications and baby formula.

“Our church office is starting to fill up. All donations will be sorted and transported to the United Ukrainian American Relief Committee in Philadelphia who will ship it to Ukraine,” she indicated.

Suggested medications include but are not limited to: pain relievers, antibiotic ointments, anti-diarrhea medications, cold and allergy formulas, pedialyte, first aid supplies, vitamins, baby formula (premade) and diapers.

All donations can be dropped off at Our Lady Queen of Peace parish office at 1402 Route 209, Brodheadsville. Donors can also aid the effort by mail at: P.O. Box 38, Brodheadsville, PA.

“I am worried about the orphans, all the orphans in Ukraine,” Flannery passionately stated. “I’m afraid that once abandoned by their parents, they will be abandoned once again without someone to advocate for them. I am trying to be their voice!”

She has been uplifted and gladdened by reports that numerous humanitarian groups are providing crucial aid to the orphans; however, many older and neurotypical orphans have been left on their own. She further noted that quite a few orphans have been hosted by American families during the summer and at Christmastime, and these families are willing to adopt them. Unfortunately, all adoptions have been halted.

“This war has affected me on a very personal and emotional level,” Flannery shared. “I have been scared, worried, angry, sad, frustrated and confused. I have spent days with only minimal amounts of interrupted sleep. Parishioners have dropped meals off for me because I couldn’t remember if I had eaten.”

Joining the chorus of religious faithful and their leaders crying out for constant prayer and supplication, Flannery also pleaded for prayerful intercessions for divine help.

“This evil will only end through prayer and consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” she implored. “We all need to pray the Rosary as our Mother Mary requested at Fatima. Pray to defeat the enemy and bring an end to the evil acts of an atheistic leader. We need to pray for the conversion of Russia. Pray the Rosary!”

Flannery also urged concerned citizens to contact their legislators to advocate for the establishment of official Ukrainian refugee status in America.