Yuriy Opoka prays for his wife and young daughter to be safe in Ukraine as he closely follows the massive buildup of Russian troops on the country’s borders and dire warnings that they could invade at any moment.
The 33-year-old journalist often calls his family from Philadelphia, where he is taking an English class, and recently joined other members of the city’s Ukrainian community at a rally calling for peace at his home.
“My 5-year-old daughter asks my wife why Russians want to kill Ukrainians,” Opoka said of her relatives, who live in the western city of Lviv. “I’m frustrated and also worried about them.”
Religious leaders and members of the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States are increasingly concerned about the threat of a dramatic escalation in the nearly decade-old conflict and have stepped up efforts to show support for family members. and to their Eastern European homeland.
This support ranges from offering spiritual support during special prayer services and maintaining charitable donations to organizing protests and outspoken institutional statements opposing Moscow’s actions amid the greater security crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War.
Moscow, which has more than 100,000 troops deployed near Ukraine, insists it has no intention of attacking and said on Tuesday some of its troops had withdrawn from the area. But a US defense official said Russian troops were heading towards, and not far from, the Ukrainian border, and Western officials are warning an invasion could come at any moment.
“It’s a stressor for all of us here … because of the danger of it being a bloody mess,” said Reverend Taras Lonchyna, pastor of St. Josaphat Ukrainian Catholic Church in Trenton, New Jersey. “Our parishioners have contact with their families. … They are not only concerned about COVID but also about war.
Saint Josaphat parishioner Myroslava Kucharska said she speaks daily with her two sons and four grandchildren who live in the southern city of Mykolaiv and in the capital Kyiv.
“I tell my sons, ‘Be ready, be ready,'” Kucharska said. “We pray with tears in our eyes. … We know what war means.
Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, where most of the congregation has relatives in western Ukraine, responded to the crisis by keeping parishioners informed of the situation and encouraging the prayer, especially during a recent peace service. If needed, the Reverend Jason Charron said, the church stands ready to provide humanitarian aid as it has done in recent years for the war-torn east of the country.
Having emerged from decades of communist Soviet rule, Ukrainian Catholics are ready to resist any invasion that threatens to bring them back under the control of the Kremlin, Charron said: “For them, the repression of their culture and their history is linked to the repression of their faith”.
His wife, Halyna Charron, from Ukraine, said family members and friends throughout her home country were surprised and encouraged that the West is now paying so much attention to Ukraine after years little attention. It’s in America’s interest to do so, she said, because the United States was a signatory to a 1994 pact in which Ukraine agreed to renounce era nuclear weapons. Soviet Union on its soil in exchange for Russia’s promise to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
“I understand that some Americans will say, ‘Oh, what’s the problem? Ukraine is somewhere far away,” she said. “But once you’re in a position of power and you sign papers, you have to honor those promises.”
In Pittsburgh last weekend, members of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church were selling homemade soup as part of a “Souper Bowl” fundraiser to help feed those in need at home. At fundraisers in previous years, customers often asked where the country was. But in 2022, with the constant headlines about the crisis, they no longer need to ask and are often eager to help.
The Right Reverend John Haluszczak, pastor of the church, said parishioners were worried about their loved ones and others in Ukraine, such as children and staff at a church-supported orphanage.
“We are not praying to win or lose, but rather for peace,” he said.
Archbishop Borys Gudziak, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church of Philadelphia for the United States, said daily prayers for peace are recited in each of the approximately 200 Ukrainian Catholic parishes in the United States, along with regular collections for the orphans. and wounded soldiers.
In recent weeks, the Ukrainian diaspora in America has also held a number of protests, including a gathering in Philadelphia in late January of religious leaders and worshipers, supported by the Belarusian, Lithuanian, Latvian, Polish, Estonian, Georgian, Uzbek and other diasporas from the greater metropolitan area of the city.
“The Ukrainian Catholic community and the Ukrainian community in general in the United States have been involved on a very regular basis,” Gudziak said of the eight years of fighting in eastern Ukraine in which more than 14,000 people are dead. “Now with this new danger, a danger of being in a new invasion, there is heightened awareness.”
A Russian invasion could kill thousands and trigger a refugee crisis with millions forced to flee, Gudziak added in a video conference interview from Lviv, where he was attending a meeting.
“How many schools, how many hospitals, how many bridges and roads, how many churches, synagogues, mosques should be destroyed? How many more orphans do we need to create? How many people need to be pushed into homelessness and poverty? said Gudziak, who is also head of the department of external church relations for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
The Greek Catholic Church of Ukraine is an Eastern Rite minority church that uses the Byzantine or Greek liturgy and is loyal to the pope. Last month, Pope Francis called for a day of prayer on the Ukraine crisis and for political talks prioritizing “human fraternity over partisan interests”. The Holy See’s Secretary of State telephoned the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church on Monday to express the solidarity of the Vatican.
The Council of Bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the United States, meanwhile, issued a statement titled “Pray for Ukraine.”
“Fear and intimidation tactics with the presence of armed vehicles and more than one hundred thousand troops around the borders of Ukraine combined with systematic cyber attacks on all levels of life in Ukraine can only be interpreted as terrorist threats that target innocent lives of Ukrainian citizens,” he said.
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