Gina Christian

Sometimes a picture can be a prayer – and a social media post, a message from heaven.

Back in early February, a pregnant Valeria Glodan uploaded several photographs to her Instagram account to share what she called “the best 40 weeks” of her life.

In one image, the beautiful young woman sits in contemplation, eyes closed as she gently caresses her womb. A soft smile plays upon her lips, an expression of deep contentment not unlike that I once saw on the face of a cloistered nun in silent prayer.

Baby Kira had been born a month earlier, bringing Valeria and her husband Yuriy to “a new level of happiness,” wrote the new mother. 

Yuriy had already given Kira her first flowers, Valeria added. 

And he surely would have brought her and her mother more as spring unfolded in their hometown of Odesa, a port city in southern Ukraine.

But instead, those flowers will be placed on their graves.

Yuriy had just left the family’s apartment for an errand when Russia missiles pounded the building April 23, killing Valeria, her mother and baby Kira.

The first-time father raced back home, begging police to let him back into the burning structure, where he found the bodies of Valeria and her mother. The remains of three-month-old Kira were located later.

In his nightly address following the attack, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky demanded to know what risk an infant posed to the aggressors.

“How did she threaten Russia?” he asked, visibly distraught.

Zelensky repeated the question on May 2, after another strike on Odesa killed one teen and injured another: “How did these children … threaten the Russian state?”

The words remain unanswered, hanging in the air amid smoke and shrapnel, sirens and screams. 

As I write this, Russian shelling has just killed two boys, 11 and 14, in the town of Pryvillia, according to the region’s governor, while a Russian bomb has destroyed a nearby school where almost 100 persons were sheltering. Two thirds of them are feared dead.

Ukrainian presidential advisor Daria Herasymchuk has called the Russian campaign “a war against children.”

Three months into Russia’s most recent invasion of Ukraine – which follows its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, and its backing of separatist states in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions – thousands have been killed, and close to 13 million displaced.

Mass graves, summary executions and survivor accounts of torture and rape number in the hundreds and counting.

On May 9, Russia will celebrate these so-called accomplishments as part of its annual Victory Day festivities, which commemorate the 1945 Soviet win over Nazi Germany.

As tanks lumber through Moscow’s Red Square this year, Russian president Vladimir Putin will hold forth on how his “special military operation,” as he terms his war on Ukraine, is a noble (and even, as Russian Orthodox Patriach Kirill claims, divinely ordained) quest to purge Ukraine of Nazis that, strangely enough, the rest of the world can’t seem to find.

But louder than the eight MiG-29 fighter jets set to fly over the Russian parade of weapons is the cry of baby Kira’s blood, which reaches the very throne of the Lord.

And in the motherly smile of Valeria – whose name means “strength” – the human heart discerns the true nature of power, found only when we surrender to the God-given gift of life.

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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