By Joe Bukuras
Three aid workers for a Catholic charity operating in Ukraine were hurt last week when the van they were riding in was hit by artillery fire, the leader of the humanitarian group said.
Jason Jones, the founder of the U.S.-based Vulnerable People Project (VPP), told CNA Wednesday the three Ukrainian men sustained head injuries. He said one of the aid workers remains hospitalized in critical condition. The other two were treated at the hospital and released.
After leaving the hospital, the two men who were less seriously hurt said they were ready to rejoin the humanitarian effort, Irina Skaya, a U.S.-based Ukrainian comedian who is leading VPP’s “Hope for Ukraine” campaign, told CNA.
A photo of the aftermath of the incident on March 10 in northwest Ukraine shows the rear end of the white van crumpled by the explosion. One of the vehicle’s side doors is blown off, and what appear to be oranges are spilled across the roadway.
Jones said he was “absolutely sure” the artillery shells were fired by Russian forces. He did not know if the van was the intended target.
“Russia doesn’t have to intend to hit civilians (in order) to hit civilians,” Jones said. “Once you choose to invade a country, you’re choosing that civilians will die — unintentionally, at the very least.”
The men were delivering food and supplies “very close to the Russian lines” to Ukrainians trapped by the fighting, Jones said, adding that the workers planned to evacuate a group of children on the return trip.
The Vulnerable People Project, which Jones describes as a Catholic apostolate animated by Catholic social teaching, has transported thousands of people away from areas where the fighting is intense to the relative safety of western Ukraine or across the Polish border, Jones said. The humanitarian organization also remains active in Afghanistan, where it has been helping to evacuate Christians and other minorities trying to escape the Taliban.
Another of VPP’s workers was shot in the leg in another earlier incident, Jones said.
Last week CNA interviewed Aleksi Voronin, one of the organization’s volunteer drivers, who spoke about the trauma the people he is evacuating have experienced. “I cannot find the right words to explain the condition of people when I pick them up,” Voronin told CNA, fighting back tears.