The Malteser Relief Service Network in Ukraine

Assistance during the war in Ukraine

The war left millions of Ukrainians homeless, without confidence in the future. Fleeing the shelling, they leave their hometowns and villages in search of safety. Some seek refuge within Ukraine, others go abroad. The priority for us, the volunteers of the Malteser Relief Service, during the war in Ukraine is to ensure a comfortable stay in temporary shelters for refugees and humanitarian and medical support for the civilian population.

The Malteser Relief Service during war in Ukraine provides support to the civilian population. As of today, the following measures are being taken:

  • Distribution of hot food and water at the Main Railway Station and Bus Station in Lviv
  • Assistance to refugees in queues at country borders
  • Organizing assistance at the local level to meet the needs of refugees
  • Fundraising
  • Organization of humanitarian aid from abroad through the Representations of the Order of Malta and the Malteser Services of the World
  • Conducting first aid courses
  • The Malteser Relief Service continues to provide food for the elderly

The Malteser Relief Service in Lviv

The Malteser Relief Service (MRS) began working in Lviv, Ukraine in December of 1990 as a part of winter humanitarian aid from Germany. On February 23, 1993, at the initiative of the Sovereign Order of Malta and the German Maltese Relief Service, the charitable organization MRS was registered in Lviv. Almost at the same time, similar charitable centers were established in Ivano-Frankivsk (Prykarpattia), Beregovo, Mukachevo (Zakarpattia), and in the capital – Kyiv. In 2013, the centers merged into the Maltese Relief Service in Ukraine.

The main activity of the organization is helping children in need, low-income and elderly people, people with disabilities in wheelchairs, individuals with special needs, children and mothers in crisis situations.

The charity kitchen was the first MRS project. Since it was established, the project has served about 4 million meals. The organizers annually arrange a Christmas dinner and Easter breakfast for visitors of the Charity Kitchen, which is mostly low-income single needy elderly people. The year of 2007 marked the beginning of the “Kitchen on Wheels” — the project for delivering hot lunches to those with limited mobility.

Over the years, the Malteser Service has helped children’s homes and orphanages to cover many urgent needs, like repairing bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, and classrooms. In addition, MRS has helped with arranging training equipment and inventory, dental offices, sports facilities, training workshops, libraries, and massive replacing of beds. The service has also purchased gifts for children and arranged the annual “St. Nicholas – children in need” campaign. Preference is given to projects with a “Help for self-help” vibe (tractor, apiary, sewing studios, carpentry, and bicycle studios).

An important part of ​​work is making sure children from orphanages communicate with their peers through volunteer visits, field trips, sports competitions, tutorials, and special entertainment & educational events. We also implement educational and cultural-informative programs. With the beginning of the children’s homes system reform in Ukraine, we continue to keep in touch with our little ones and support them in every possible way.

For over 15 years, we have been intensively working with disabled individuals: annual summer camps and pilgrimages to various destinations in Ukraine and abroad, as well as daily work on social and psychological adaptation of people with disabilities.

In 2009, we launched a support program for family-type children’s homes (FTCH) and started cooperating with large families and several crisis centers for mothers with children.

We work with projects for the education and development of volunteer youth. Since 1995, the MRS has been a co-organizer of the annual May Youth Walking Pilgrimage to the Holy Dormition Univ Lavra. People with special needs are also welcome to join the pilgrimage. The MRS also has plenty of experience in successfully conducting large-scale campaigns in other areas of assistance to the needy: providing assistance to flood victims from Zakapattya; humanitarian, social, and psychological assistance to victims of the conflict in eastern Ukraine; rehabilitation of servicemen wounded in the anti-terrorist operation (ATO) zone; purchasing medical equipment for the operation of newborns in the conditions of artificial circulation; first-aid training and qualified first aid, and the list goes on


History of the Maltese Order

“Preservation of faith and assistance to the needy” is the constant motto of the Maltese Order. The Maltese Relief Service, in its turn, is the direct organizational derivation and successor to the Order’s spiritual heritage. Before turning to the modern history of the Order and its successors, read a brief history of the events surrounding the Maltese Order.

From the reign of Constantine the Great (306-336) and since the time of the Holy Sepulcher discovery, the Christians’ view was turned to the Holy Land, to Jerusalem, and the flow of pilgrims to the holy places wouldn’t stop. To assist them in this long and dangerous journey to Palestine, there was a network of help points, where travelers could find shelter and food, the poor – alms, and the sick – qualified care. There is documentary evidence that in 1099, after capturing Jerusalem (I Crusade), the crusaders already encountered a hospital dedicated to John the Baptist. The number of spots in the hospital reached 2,000. The men’s and women’s units provided assistance to the wounded and sick regardless of their religion, and doctors used advanced at-the-time Arab medicine methods. Brother Gerard (died in 1120) ran the hospital, and the staff was a community of brothers. After Jerusalem was captured, a large group of crusaders joined the hospital, and very soon, similar hospitals began to appear in other places.

Decisive steps were soon taken to form a religious fraternity: in 1113, the papal charter approved the statute of the monastic fraternity, the religious rule of which covered three vows: virtue, poverty and obedience. Besides hospitals and shelters, the fraternity also owned about 50 fortresses in the Holy Land, and due to increasing militarization (because of the need to protect pilgrims on their way from the port of Jaffa – the main landing place for Europeans in Palestine – to Jerusalem, the protection of the Tomb Lord, cleansing the neighborhood from robbers and infidels),  Ioannites become a military-religious organization. Together with the Templars, they form a constant fighting force for defending the Kingdom of Jerusalem. During this period, the name of the organization “brotherhood” changes to “order”.

The first documentary evidence of the Order’s involvement in the fight against the infidels dates back to 1137. Soon, the Order played a crucial role in the key victories of the Crusaders at Ascalon (1154) and Accra (1191). After the 1291 fall of Accra (the second capital of the Ioannites and the last stronghold of Christians in the Holy Land) the remnants of the brothers moved to Cyprus, and in 1306-1310 they occupy the island of Rhodes – fertile, with many convenient harbors, near a possible theater of operations with Muslims. It is worth mentioning that after the 1312 abolition of the Templar Knights Order, a large part of their property outside France was transferred by the Pope to the Knights of Rhodes.

Over 200 years in Rhodes, the Order established a clear hierarchical structure and charter. It is a military-spiritual organization, in the spiritual life subordinated to the pope, completely independent of secular power, and with the rights of the state. At the time, Rhodes was building a huge hospital, palace, fortifications and schools, as well as continuously expanding and improving the navy (using the best achievements of maritime affairs from around the world). The Ioannites continued fighting the Turks and Mamluks, raiding the coasts of Levant, Asia Minor, and Egypt, constantly increasing their own military power.

In 1480, during incredibly difficult battles, with immense material losses, the Order managed to repel the attack of the Turkish Sultan Mehmed II. This is one of the most famous sieges in world history because a small number of fearless warriors defeated countless enemy forces. But in 1522, under the pressure of Suleiman the Magnificent (at that time, already the father of one-year-old Selim – the son born to his beloved Hurrem – Ukrainian Roxolana, as a gift for whom he gets the island), the knights had to leave Rhodes. The siege went on for six months, and the knights, once again, fought extremely bravely and in a distinct minority demonstrated the hidden internal resources of human beings. Amazed by what he saw, Suleiman nobly allowed the brothers to leave the island on the condition of honorary capitulation – they were allowed to take all the flags and banners, Christian relics from temples, manuscripts, archives and rarities of the Order, and cannons. Plus, the Suleiman provided ships for them to leave the island conveniently. The brothers sought refuge for seven years. Finally, in 1530, with the assistance of Pope Clement VII, the Order took possession of the island of Malta and the archipelago from the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. That is why the Order’s soldiers had to protect the Mediterranean from Turks and African corsairs, promising to maintain neutrality between Europeans.

The shield of Western Europe from the Muslim world for more than two centuries, the Order constantly receives considerable funds from the continent, which, in turn, contribute to the rise of spiritual and material heritage. Finally, in 1565, the Ioannites met with Suleiman the Magnificent again. This is when the so-called “Great Siege” took place — one of the greatest battles between Christians and Muslims. The victory of European arms marked the beginning of the decline of Turkish rule in the Mediterranean and the culmination of the Order’s military glory.

Malta flourished during this period: the Maritime Academy was considered the best in the world, medical practice was famous throughout Europe, the Maltese college received the status of a university, and the library of Valletta, the capital, was one of the largest in the world. Since the mid-XVI century, Malta was becoming the center of world science as that was where European scientists freely collaborated and communicated with scientists from the East. In the XVI-XVII centuries, under the flags of Portugal, Spain, and France (in line with the colonial policies of European states), knights also played an important role in the colonization of Canada, the Antilles, India, and Brazil. Times changed…With the change of geopolitical plans in France (which had a great influence on the Order, where most of its estates were located), which was just establishing friendly relations with the Ottoman Empire, the police actions of knights against the Ottomans were highly unwelcome. The Order is gradually losing its leading status in Europe. In the XVIII century, the Maltese fleet collapsed, and the brothers were significantly frustrated.

Ethnic Ukrainian lands in the XVII century are in some way related to the history of the Maltese Order. The Grand Priory of the Maltese Order was founded in the Ukrainian-Belarusian and Polish lands, which were ceded to Russia after the disintegration of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. All Jesuit estates in Poland were soon transferred to the Order.

With its powerful anti-clericalism, the French Revolution put an end to the Maltese Order in France. With the 1792 Convention, the Order was deprived of all possessions in France, and members of the Order were expelled from the country. In 1798, the Order lost Malta to the French, led by Napoleon Bonaparte, during his campaign in Egypt. The Grand Master of the Order of Hompes resigned. Some of the knights who found refuge in distant Russia at the invitation of the Russian emperor (as early as 1797, the emperor had permitted to establish the Grand Priory of the Order of Malta in Russia, consisting of two – Roman Catholic and Russian Orthodox), choose Paul I as his successor (contrary to the statute of the Order). Married, non-Catholic, without the monastic vows, Paul I is not recognized by the papal throne as head of the Catholic Order of Knights, and he still remained illegitimate in the history of the Order. But in 1801, Paul I died at the hands of the rebels, and the heir to the Russian throne, Alexander I, soon initiated new elections, trying to bring a legitimate government to the leadership of the Order. Tommasi, an Italian candidate from the Grand Catholic Priory of Russia, becomes a Grand Master. He is approved by Pope Pius VII, and the Order’s chapterhouse is moved to Italy. In 1817 (thanks to Alexander I), the Order’s activities within the Russian Empire ceased.

In the XIX century, the Order lost its considerable estates in many European countries, most of them — in Germany. In 1834, after three decades of traveling through Italy and Spain, the Order finally settled in Rome, and it’s still the Order’s main residence. In the second half of the XIX century, the Order started acquiring some of the characteristics that it has to this day and becoming a large international Catholic charitable organization. However, the world community also recognizes it as a sovereign state whose possessions have the right of extraterritoriality and which declares its neutrality (like the Vatican). The Order of Malta maintains diplomatic relations at the level of ambassadors with 104 countries, represented by permanent delegations to the United Nations, the Commission of the European Communities, the Council of Europe, UNESCO, WHO, and other respected international organizations.

In 2008, the Order established bilateral diplomatic relations with Ukraine. Today, it is still possible to speak with certainty about the elitist nature of the Order, even after, according to its new statute of 1961, the Order didn’t allow admitting people of humble origin. To their circle, blood aristocrats have invited aristocrats of the spirit, the elite of the political as well as economic world, and intellectuals. Social orientation is one of the Order’s prominent points.

Since the beginning of the XX century, the focus has been on fighting against leprosy, assisting refugees, covering basic needs during natural and man-made disasters, and assisting in overcoming military-conflict consequences. This is more than two hundred projects in Asia and Africa each year. The Order also pays special attention to religious, ecclesiastical, educational, and cultural activities. The source of material resources of the Order and the basis of its activity are considerable donations from various church and public organizations, individuals, as well as income from real estate in many countries. Highly spiritual, full of sacrificial love for one’s neighbor, the goals that inspired the first hospitallers of the XI century not only lasted through centuries but also strengthened and freed from the temptations of this world. They became a moral norm, which, in God’s name, requires unconditional support to one’s neighbor, here and now.