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Ukraine conflict

Ukrainian and Russian seafarers reveal shock and stress of Ukraine events to maritime chaplains

11 March 2022

Seafarers from Ukraine and Russia – often working alongside each other – are revealing their stress and anxiety at events unfolding in Ukraine to chaplains from global maritime charities working in the ports where they are stationed around the world.

Stella Maris chief executive officer Martin Foley said Stella Maris urged all governments to ensure the safety of all seafarers caught up in this war, their entitlement to adequate shore leave and their access to our welfare services.

'Stella Maris chaplains in the UK and around the world will redouble their efforts to support all seafarers affected by this war. It is desperately unfortunate that Ukrainian, Russian, and other seafarers are getting caught up in this war.'

In a statement sharing horror and sadness at events in Ukraine, The Mission to Seafarers also said its 'prayers were with all caught up in the fighting, including seafarers trapped in Ukrainian ports and crews facing immediate risk in hostile waters'.

Stella Maris regional port chaplain at Tilbury and London Gateway Wojciech Holub said both Ukrainian and Russian seafarers he had spoken to are shocked and horrified by what they are seeing and hearing about the war.

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Tilbury chaplain Wojciech Holub. Image: Stella Maris/Flickr file photo

'Onboard vessels of mixed Russian and Ukrainian crew, they are united and have no animosity towards each other.'

Both Ukrainian and Russian seafarers were also worried about getting home, he said.

'One Ukrainian ship master I spoke to at Tilbury port told me that his contract had ended, and a replacement captain had already joined the ship. However, he has had to remain on board because of the difficulties getting flights home.

'It is not just the Ukrainian seafarers who are worried about getting home, seafarers from Russia and the surrounding countries such as Georgia and Armenia are also worried about getting home.'

Stella Maris regional Kent and the Medway ports chaplain Deacon John Fogarty echoed what other chaplains were hearing of the humanitarian struggles from seafarers on both sides of the conflict. After speaking to a Russian captain of a vessel with 13 Russian crew members, he said: 'The captain, whose mother was half-Ukrainian, was almost apologetic, as were the crew members, simply for being Russian. It struck me that there may be many more seafarers feeling the very same. Russian seafarers who are really struggling at this time as well as for their brothers and sisters in Ukraine,.

'It was very humbling, although saddening, to be taken into their confidence on how they are feeling.'

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Deacon Doug Duncan in Aberdeen. Image: Stella Maris/Flickr file photo

Stella Maris Northeast Scotland regional port chaplain Deacon Doug Duncan reflected the painful choices some Ukrainian seafarers were facing on whether to stay working or return home. He met with three Ukrainian seafarers who had finished their contracts in the oil and gas sector. Their employer was looking at placing them on another vessel, the men told him.

'Three of them have decided to go home, while the three who are staying know that if they return home, they probably would not be able come back to the UK to work. They have advised their families to flee while they would carry on working and supporting their families in some way.'

The Mission to Seafarers secretary general the Rev Canon Andrew Wright also revealed the tremendous anxiety and stress faced by seafarers of both nationalities, sometimes working alongside each other, which the Mission's teams – chaplains and volunteers – have been encountering in ports all over the world since the early days of the conflict.

In his statement, he cited one team describing a 'warm and welcoming crew' visited in Panama where the chief officer said his wife and family could not leave the port of Mariupol in Ukraine as it was surrounded and under bombardment by invading Russian forces. The officer was clearly upset and worried about the escalation of violence as well as feeling powerless to support or help his family. Due to sign off on 3 March, he had no way of returning home, so decided to fly to Germany and stay with relatives living there in the hope that the negotiations between the Ukraine and Russia would be successful and enable him to return home.

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The Rev Canon Andrew Wright. Image: The Mission to Seafarers

From New Zealand the Mission reported: 'Seven Ukrainians and six Russians onboard. No fighting but very sad. They cannot go home. They cannot have crew changes. Some onboard for 9.5 months.'

And from the US another team reported seeing a Ukrainian officer concerned for his family, who were fleeing to Spain following bombardment.

Sailors's Society has launched new WhatsApp 'peer to peer' support groups to enable crews to chat with others finding themselves in similar situations. In a statement, it said: 'Up to 14.5 per cent of the world's seafarers are Ukrainian or Russian. Sailors' Society chaplains are supporting seafarers from all sides deeply affected by the ongoing war every day.

'Up to one in five officers are Ukrainian, meaning many crews will find themselves serving under officers concerned about their homeland and families. They too will be able to chat with others who find themselves in similar situations.'

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Support for seafarers

The Mission to Seafarers Samaritan's Fund

  • The Mission to Seafarers is enhancing its Samaritan's Fund to enable additional payments in support of communication provision at local levels, and its emergency fund will also be accessed to help stranded seafarers if necessary.

Sailors' Society peer to peer support

  • As well as a Ukrainian crisis appeal, Sailors' Society has launched three bespoke 'peer to peer' support groups via WhatsApp groups.
  • The support groups will allow Ukrainian and Russian seafarers to speak to other crews from their own country in their own language, while a third group will be made up of seafarers from other nationalities.

Stella Maris SIMs and phone cards

  • Stella Maris is making phone cards and data SIMs available to Ukrainian seafarers free of charge

The Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB) Emergency SIM fund

  • The MNWB has launched an emergency SIM card fund of £5,000 to ensure Ukrainian seafarers can call their loved ones back home.

Image: Sailors' Society


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