Iryna Nahirna has been in regular contact with her mother and sister, who live in Drohobych in western Ukraine. While her family has been relatively safe in the first few days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Nahirna, who lives thousands of miles away in St. Louis, still worries for them.
Nahirna joined St. Mary’s Assumption Ukrainian Catholic Church shortly after she arrived in the United States in 2006. She said the faith community has been a constant source of support during the ongoing conflict in her homeland.
“First, it’s community. Second, to be together with people and to pray together for my country — it’s like everybody’s efforts put together,” she said. “You feel supported. Plus I can give a part of myself to this community.”
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine unfolded, parishioners and supporters came together for an evening prayer service Feb. 25 at St. Mary’s Assumption. They lifted their prayers to the Holy Mother of God, asking for peace and an end to the crisis. Called a molében, the intercessory prayer service is a part of Eastern Catholic Churches in honor of Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, a feast or a particular saint or martyr.
Deacon Eugene Logusch, administrator of St. Mary’s Assumption Church, who led the prayer service, noted that the faith community is about to begin the season of Lent, an important time of focus on the Christian life. “We are called to live the Christian life, through first and foremost the love of our neighbor,” he said.
Echoing the words of Ukrainian Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Deacon Logusch said to defend one’s self, one’s family, and one’s homeland are among the greatest acts of love.
“The events last few days in Ukraine have shown acts of heroism and self-sacrifice — not seen in Ukrainian life for generations — have spontaneously happened,” he said. “We are called to love and serve and to defend.”
“We are also called to pray unceasingly,” Deacon Logusch said. “In the end, we recognize that God’s will should be done. When we pray the Our Father, we say ‘Thy will be done.’ That requires an enormous act of faith. It requires an understanding that we as Christians cannot author change.”
Tatiana Kobasa was still in her mother’s womb when her parents came to the United States in 1999. She was a teenager, not fully aware of the last major conflict in Ukraine in 2014, after Russia annexed Crimea and Russian-backed separatists attacked Ukrainian government forces in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Now at 23 years old, she now sees the impact of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Many of Kobasa’s extended family members live in Lviv, located in western Ukraine. “With everything happening, it’s very scary because there’s so much uncertainty,” she said, adding that family members there are staying at home for the moment. “The best we can do is keep in touch with our family members and listen to the news. You never know what’s going to happen next.”
In praying for the intercession of the Holy Mother of God for peace in Ukraine, Kobasa said the Blessed Mother is like a guardian angel. “It’s faith and it’s hope,” she said. “It’s something that is always here with us, and someone we can pray to, to help us out, even in the hardest of times.”
Igor Shalai, who has been in the United States nearly 10 years, said that the Ukrainian people are peaceful and kindhearted, but similarly are brave and determined to fight for their independence.
“I believe God is on our side,” he said. “We’re not occupants. It’s our soil, our territory.”
St. Mary’s Assumption Ukrainian Catholic Church will offer other prayer opportunities in the coming week, including celebration of the Divine Liturgy at 10 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 27; as well as another moleben prayer vigil at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 28. The church is located at 11363 Oak Branch Drive in south St. Louis County.
A public demonstration in support of Ukraine also is scheduled to take place at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 26, at Tower Grove Park in St. Louis.
How you can help
WASHINGTON — Various Catholic agencies are collecting donations to aid with the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, as people flee to escape Russian bombing and shelling. Here are some places to donate. This list is not exhaustive.
The international Caritas confederation is collecting funds to help Caritas Ukraine. In the United States, that is through Catholic Relief Services. Internationally, you can donate through Caritas Internationalis.
The Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia also has a link to donate.
Two pontifical agencies also are taking donations for Ukraine: Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need. Internationally, Aid to the Church can be reached here.