By Joe Bukuras
Three aid workers from a Catholic charity operating in Ukraine were injured last week when the van they were traveling in was hit by artillery fire, the head of the aid group said.
Jason Jones, the founder of the US-based Vulnerable People Project (VPP), told CNA on Wednesday that the three Ukrainian men suffered head injuries. He said one of the aid workers remained in hospital in critical condition. The other two were treated in hospital and released.
After leaving the hospital, the two less seriously injured men said they were ready to join the humanitarian effort, Irina Skaya, a U.S.-based Ukrainian comedian who leads the “Hope for Ukraine” campaign, told CNA. ” of the VPP.
A photo from the aftermath of the March 10 incident in northwestern Ukraine shows the back of the white van crumpled by the explosion. One of the vehicle’s side doors is blown out and what appears to be oranges are spilling onto the pavement.
Jones said he was “absolutely sure” the artillery shells were fired by Russian forces. He didn’t know if the van was the intended target.
“Russia doesn’t have to intend to hit civilians (to) hit civilians,” Jones said. “Once you choose to invade a country, you choose for civilians to die – unintentionally, at the very least.”
The men were delivering food and supplies “very close to 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 driven by Catholic social teaching, has transported thousands of people away from areas of intense fighting to the relative safety of western Ukraine or across the Polish border, Jones said. The humanitarian organization also remains active in Afghanistan, where it helps evacuate Christians and other minorities trying to escape the Taliban.
Another VPP employee was shot in the leg in another prior incident, Jones said.
Last week, CNA interviewed Aleksi Voronin, one of the organization’s volunteer drivers, who spoke about the trauma suffered by the people he evacuates. “I can’t find the right words to explain people’s condition when I pick them up,” Voronin told CNA, fighting back tears.