Stella Maris chaplains have been speaking about the dilemmas and worries of both Ukrainian and Russian seafarers as the war in Ukraine deepens. Wojciech Holub, Stella Maris regional port chaplain in Tilbury and London Gateway, said several Ukrainian seafarers he has met are incredibly anxious about not being able to return back home or see their families.
“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,” said Wojciech.
He said, “Another young seafarer was on a vessel heading for drydock in Gdansk, Poland. He comes from Crimea and has Russian and Ukrainian nationality. He said he hoped to find safe accommodation in Gdansk as he feels he has no chance of getting home. His sister and other relatives have escaped to Turkey.”
“Through tears, another seafarer from Kyiv spoke of his grief and told me he was thinking of his home and family, and cannot wait to get home,” Wojciech added.
It is not just the Ukrainian seafarers who are worried about getting home, said Wojciech, but also those from Russia and the surrounding countries such as Georgia and Armenia.
Wojciech said both Ukrainian and Russian seafarers are shocked and horrified by what they are seeing and hearing about the war. On board vessels of mixed Russian and Ukrainian crew, they are united and have no animosity towards each other, he said.
This sentiment is echoed by Deacon John Fogarty, Stella Maris regional chaplain for Kent and the Medway ports, who spoke to the Russian captain of a vessel with 13 Russian crew members.
“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,” said John, adding, “It was very humbling, although saddening, to be taken into their confidence on how they are feeling.”
Deacon Doug Duncan, Stella Maris Northeast Scotland regional port chaplain 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 Doug.
“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.”
Recognising the anguish of Ukrainian seafarers at this time, anxious for the safety of their family and friends at home, Stella Maris is making phone cards and data SIMs available to Ukrainian seafarers free of charge.
Martin Foley, Stella Maris chief executive officer said, “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.”
“Stella Maris urges 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 is the largest ship-visiting network in the world with over 1,000 chaplains and volunteers in 330 ports across 60 countries. This team makes 70,000 ship visits in a normal year to vessels of all flags and nationalities to look after the wellbeing and welfare of seafarers and fishers – regardless of their race, creed or faith.