After a five-day journey meeting with Church hierarchy and government officials in Poland and Ukraine, Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly of the Knights of Columbus is convinced that American Catholics must continue to stand in solidarity with the suffering Ukrainian people this winter.

“Things are more difficult now in Ukraine than they were nine months ago,” Kelly told CNA in an interview Wednesday. “And we need to stay the course and continue to help them.”

Kelly emphasized that Ukraine is headed toward a difficult trial with the coming winter cold, as the country is already suffering from major power outages nationwide, something that he experienced himself when visiting the war-torn nation.

“Let’s remember our brothers and sisters in Christ in Ukraine this winter,” he added.

Kelly’s visit to Lviv, Ukraine, consisted of meeting with Knights of Columbus leaders and meetings with different bishops, Ukrainian Greek Catholic seminarians, and some government leaders.

Kelly told CNA that one of the initiatives the Knights are supporting is a “de-mining” effort to remove improvised explosive devices that may pose a danger to Ukrainians returning to their homes, as well as the transportation of food and other necessary resources.

The Knights have partnered with a couple of different organizations to support this effort, he said.

Mentioning his meeting with Knights of Columbus leaders in Ukraine, Kelly called them “a very impressive group of men and families,” adding that they are the ones delivering much of the aid coming through Poland.

Knights of Columbus Charity Convoys have produced and delivered more than 100,000 care packages from Poland to people in need in Ukraine. Thirty-five thousand more care packages of all kinds of food are currently being prepared.

More aid from the Knights is provided by its Ukraine Solidarity Fund, which has now raised nearly $20 million. The fund supports humanitarian relief for those affected by the war.

Kelly said that the Ukrainian Knights have been instrumental in directing the care packages to the families and communities that need the support. Some of the areas receiving the care packages are cities like Kharkiv and Kherson, which were recently reclaimed from the Russians.

Kelly told CNA about his meeting with Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv, in which Mokrzycki told him about the Ukrainian government’s expression of thanks to the archbishop for giving Ukrainians hope amid the crisis.

“The government leaders realized that hope is the thing that they need more than anything else,” Kelly said. Kelly added that Ukrainian Greek Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk told him that the government leaders expressed the same sentiments to him as well.

During the beginning of his trip, Kelly spent much time meeting with Church leaders and government officials in Poland, including the president of the country, Andrzrej Duda.

Kelly said that Duda expressed his thanks for all that the Knights have done to support the country amid the refugee crisis and spoke about his concern about the war.

“They consider it an existential threat,” Kelly said.

Duda expressed to Kelly his concern that “the West is going to forget … grow tired of the conflict and move on,” Kelly told CNA. But Kelly said he assured him that the Knights of Columbus are “here for the long haul” and will support the country throughout the crisis.

Kelly presented the president and the Polish people with the Knights’ Caritas Award. The award recognizes exemplary charity and sacrifice for others. Duda is the first head of state to receive the reward. Kelly also gifted the president with a relic of Blessed Michael McGivney, the Knights’ founder, to be placed in the Polish presidential chapel.

Part of his visit to Poland included helping create care packages at one of the Knights of Columbus “Mercy Centers” in Warsaw. Kelly spoke about his meeting with Ukrainian children refugees saying that “these children have been through a lot.”

Kelly mentioned the sad looks on the children’s faces, even as they sang Christmas carols, adding that the war has taken a toll on them. The children’s fathers are not present in the centers either because the men are not allowed to leave Ukraine, he said.

“We were talking to one of the priests who runs the facility, and he said that when the children are outside playing and a helicopter goes over, they sort of run for cover. Obviously, I think they’ve been traumatized by their experience near the war,” he said.

Kelly said that amid the suffering, he encountered the refugees’ closeness to prayer.

There’s a real sense of closeness with God with the refugees,” he said, “and that was very palpable.”