A bombed hospital in Vilniansk, Zaporizhzhia region (Photo: Ansa-Zumapress)

Aid to Ukraine and that nostalgia

A doctor in Venice, through friendship with a colleague in Uzhorod, has become involved in several missions to the war-torn country over the past year.

I am a doctor, with a passion for languages, so in 2008 I started studying Russian. From here a series of unexpected encounters and friendships were born. In 2014 a friend asked me for help for her grandson living in Rostov-on-Don, an eight-year-old boy with cancer, but without a precise diagnosis. Local doctors had said to take him home to die because there was nothing more they could do. Even at that time the feat of doing anything seemed impossible, but instead in a "miraculous" way I found myself at the center of the actions of an Other who overcame all unfavorable circumstances. Today the child, after treatment in the hospital in Monza, is cured and is doing well.

Also in 2014, a delegation of Ukrainian doctors visited the hospital in Venice, where I work. Among them, as an interpreter, was Rimma, a senologist from Uzhorod, who studies Italian and often comes on vacation to our country. We stayed in touch, at Easter and Christmas she sends me gifts, and when she comes we meet. I also met her parents.

February 24, 2022 came around. Two days after the Russian invasion, Rimma called me desperately by video call. The whole country was in an emergency situation, lacking even the simplest tools for dealing with trauma. I suggested that she send me an official letter requesting help from the medical association with which she had come to Venice. And immediately I thought: I am the director of the ER, I have contacts with the Veneto emergency system, the Civil Defense, I will move like this. But immediately a question arose: who do I belong to? I got in touch with my friend Marco Peronio, and the events recounted in the article “Il desiderio che prevale” [The prevailing desire] in the April issue of Tracce happened. Every time I tried to act “institutionally”, nothing happened; every time I had a good idea and tried to pursue it, nothing happened; while every time I said yes to circumstances, unexpected and moving things happened.

For example, the friendship formed with the Malve association of Ukraine (based in Verona) was an opportunity to put them in touch with the Banco Farmaceutico and the Banco Alimentare, and for me to collaborate directly with their work, which has 3,000 tons of humanitarian aid in the country, 164 vehicles including 57 fully equipped ambulances, 350 pallets of medicines, almost three million euros worth of medical devices. During this time, various people and representatives of associations that have received this help have come to visit me in Venice.

In one year, with friends from Friuli and Veneto we went to Ukraine eight times with loads of medicines and medical supplies. The money to buy the necessities came from collections made in parishes, but also from spontaneous funds and donations from people who do not know us. And a public fundraising campaign has never been started!

When we arrived in Ukraine we were always struck by the friendship of Rimma, who welcomed us as if we were brothers, and who this summer will come on vacation with us together with her youngest son for the second time. Every trip becomes an opportunity for meaningful encounters: from doctors in L'viv, to so many people we met in the Uzhorod region.

Recently I met a friend who no longer follows the movement. I told her about the things that happened to me. After accompanying her to the station, I got this message, "Now that I have seen you, I long for Jesus." I also long for Him to continue to show up as He has always done this year.

Read also - Greece: "Our vocation is the world"

A few weeks ago, some authorities with official delegation arrived in Venice from Ukraine to present me with a medal and a scroll. Over the past year we have received many recognitions, but this one was particularly significant: "For his services to the Ukrainian people and the Orthodox Church, Michele Alzetta has been appointed Knight of the Order of Prince Volodymyr in the third degree. Signed: the Metropolitan of Kyiv and Ukraine, Epifanij." The name on the parchment is mine, but behind it is a people who moved, and above all there is an Other who made it possible for us to bear witness to him in such a dramatic situation. Our friendship is truly a thing of the other world.

Michele, Venice, Italy