Ukraine is Not Yet Dead

St. Michaels Ukrainian Catholic Church is the center of the Ukrainian community in South Bend.

courtesy of St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church via Facebook

St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church is the center of the Ukrainian community in South Bend.

Nika Anderson, Editor-in-Chief

It was a clear Sunday morning when I was welcomed into St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Church by Halyna Kucher, whose family accompanied me. I was honored to collate insights of the Ukrainian community and share them with the world. A relatively small group of people gathered for liturgy, some of whom were wearing embroidered Ukrainian blouses. There was a sense of collective comfort when people of various ages came together to support each other. After the service, I interviewed several members of the parish and other Ukrainians I knew. 

Halyna introduced me to Father Andrij M. Hlabse, who is a Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Jesuit priest and a doctoral student in theology at the University of Notre Dame. He gave me a valuable perspective to the Ukrainian conflict, especially since his friends and relatives are in the war-torn nation. He is concerned for the priests who are helping refugees and at the same time, he admires what they are doing to help those most in need. The family member who he has had the most contact with is afraid and considers leaving the country because more bombings have reached western Ukraine.

“While I am not a political expert, I think the political problems really began in 2014, when the West failed to react appropriately to Russia’s illegal occupation of the Crimea and the Donbas. Today, these governments are playing catch-up from this lack of response to Russia’s manifest breaking of international law,” he stated in regards to whether governments were doing enough to help Ukraine. 

“This war has an exterminatory aim: to end Ukrainian statehood and to try to destroy the Ukrainian people’s identity, even their very being. This level of wickedness should concern every person committed to human rights. Ukrainians are speaking more and more of genocide,” Father Andrij spoke. His greatest worries about the invasion include ideology promoting the war, the targeting of innocent civilians, as well as reports about Russian hit-lists and plans for public executions in Ukraine.

When I asked Fr. Andrij about what South Bend could do for Ukraine, he urged, “Please pray for Ukraine. Please tell the truth about Ukraine, about the unjust war, about the crimes being committed against Ukrainian citizens. Please act in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, by supporting them generously in the measure you are able.” 

“Ukrainian communities across the country and the world have been collecting the goods necessary to aid with the massive humanitarian crisis unfolding. There are already 3 million refugees who have left Ukraine, after 20 days of war, and some predict there will be up to 12 million!”  Fr. Andrij exclaimed. He also mentioned that he is sure people who wish to help with the humanitarian crisis can find good and reliable channels.

I was approached by the pastor, Fr. Volodymyr Hudzan, who offered to speak to me in a multitude of languages. He had visited Ukraine nearly a week before the Feb. 24 invasion to attend a family member’s funeral. Worries over the pastor’s safe return were covered by a local news outlet, as many refugees had encountered hardships in fleeing the country. Thankfully, Fr. Volodymyr has safely returned and was able to describe his experience. He had been closer to the Polish border, where it was easier to escape from Russian forces. During our conversation, I noticed that the pastor refrained from calling Vladimir Putin by name.

“[Putin] is under an illusion of grandeur and we cannot provoke him. He is out of his mind and there is no telling of what he can do,” Fr. Volodymyr detailed his worries. He had been concerned over the loss of human lives and did not support a no-fly zone over Ukraine, citing fears of world war three. I found this surprising, considering that many Ukrainians opine that closing the sky over Ukraine would save more civilians from air raids. 

Father Andrij invited me to socialize with the churchgoers over a dish of Ukrainian nalesniki during coffee hour. I conversed with a few families about the current situation and many had worried about their relatives in Ukraine. We exchanged grimaces over Putin’s horrific actions and shared a collective condemnation for the atrocities. I told them about how my childhood streets were reduced to rubble and how my family members were forced to flee from their homes. It is difficult for many Ukrainians including me to comfortably live, knowing that everything we value is being demolished by Russian occupants.

“Slavs are killing Slavs at the behest of Putin. This man is all worldly evil concentrated in one person. He has deserved beyond the punishments that the Hague could impose,” remarked a woman I spoke to outside of church. The woman who asked not to be named demanded NATO help Ukraine close its airspace. Her strong faith in the Ukrainian people resonated with me and she lauded the brave population back in our home country.

Putin does not understand Ukrainians and how we will defend our land. Generations have grown up during the three decades of democracy and freedom since Ukraine became independent in 1991. The woman I spoke to had mentioned that there is complete transparency regarding Soviet history and that the archives are accessible to the public in Ukraine. We know that Josef Stalin perpetrated genocidal purges such as Holodomor against our people and that the Soviet Union had the goal of erasing the free spirit of Ukraine. Before parting ways, the woman asked me of one last favor,

“Now look at me!and write word for wordUkraine is not yet dead.”