About a dozen years ago, I worked with an IT consultant who along with his family had emigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine. Pavlo was a brilliant mathematician and a superb software developer – a real “code whisperer” who customized our rather daunting accounting system effortlessly. No data query was impossible for him, which was fortunate for me, as I was constantly running reports to satisfy my boss’s demand for statistics.
Whenever I asked Pavlo about his years in Ukraine, a wistful look always came over his face as he recalled the beauty of his native land, the memories of his life there, the rich heritage of his culture. Pavlo’s voice, soft by nature, grew even more hushed; he searched for English words I suspected were insufficient to express his love of country. His eyes took up the task, shining with both pride and the pang of a separation that in many ways was not his choice.
Although it gained independence after the fall of the Soviet Union, Ukraine soon found itself losing its best and brightest as it sought to heal from the deep and lingering wounds of communist repression. Since 1991, some eight million, including Pavlo and his family, have left the country in search of work, opportunity, freedom from the constant threat of Russian interference: political corruption, election manipulation, energy and water supply disruptions, disinformation, diplomatic meddling designed to isolate Ukraine from the West.
In 2014, the stakes became even higher as Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, while Russian-backed separatists proclaimed “people’s republics” in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Clashes, shelling and sniper attacks have become common in eastern Ukraine; 1.5 million have been internally displaced, and between 14,000 and 15,000 killed. Ukrainians abroad routinely raise funds to bring maimed fellow citizens to the U.S. for medical treatment.
And all because the presence of democracy at the doorstep is “a great threat to the system that (Russian) President Putin has set up,” said Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Borys Gudziak in a recent interview. “People look at Ukraine and say, ‘Why can’t we live like that?’”
(Watch CatholicPhilly.com’s recent interview with Archbishop Borys Gudziak, speaking from Ukraine on the situation there.)
With well more than 100,000 Russian troops in a horseshoe around Ukraine, and with the U.S. and other Western nations urging their nationals to flee, the Ukrainian bishops have called all faithful and all people of good will to a three-day prayer vigil, holding up the power of God and the light of Christ amid this dark moment, one of many Ukrainians have suffered over their long history as a people.
From 5,000 miles away, I join in those prayers. Here across the Atlantic, the anguish of the Ukrainian people (often hidden under a valiant stoicism) may seem remote, especially since we are blinded to others’ sufferings by our own preoccupations. The debates that divide us, the comforts that lull us, may render the Ukrainian crisis too remote for Americans, more so as we detect uncertainty in the response of Ukraine’s own European neighbors. Many in the EU depend on Russian gas, and none want to go to war; the lives of the Ukrainian people and the value of democratic freedom remain in the balance, with frantic diplomatic efforts left to calculate the cost.
Like the Ukrainian Catholic bishops here, most of us are neither “politicians nor strategists.” But the heart renewed by Christ knows no borders, and we can share in the suffering of those who even as I write this dread what the days ahead may bring. May we lift up our brothers and sisters in Ukraine to the Lord, knowing – as the bishops remind us – that through his might we all “shall rise and stand upright” (Ps 20:9).
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103
PREVIOUS: Why did the Catholic rule on cremation change?
NEXT: Pedaling toward eternity on a Peloton bike
Share this story