International News

Ukrainian Americans Urge Prayer, Support for Homeland After Russian Invasion

Ukraine supporters rally outside St. Constantine Ukrainian Catholic Church in Minneapolis Feb. 24, 2022, after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine. (Photo: CNS/Stephen Maturen, Reuters)

NEW YORK — On Wednesday, Archbishop Borys Gudziak spent time in Lisieux, France, at the grave of St. Thérése, praying for Ukraine and for Russian President Vladamir Putin’s conversion, so that Russia and the rest of the world could be free of his tyranny.

A day later, Putin’s military invaded Ukraine and executed attacks across the democratic nation by land, air, and sea.

Speaking with The Tablet late in the afternoon on Thursday, Archbishop Gudziak, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, said it’s imperative that Putin is stopped.

“What is happening against Ukraine is tearing up international law. It’s undermining the foundations of the global security system and it could turn into a much, much bigger war,” Archbishop Gudziak said. “Putin wants to create an empire. He wants to dominate and the cynicism with which he is trying to reach his goal shows that he is a pathological danger and that will affect global security, global politics, and global economics and welfare, and Catholics and all people of good will should do everything possible to stop what he is doing, to stop this war.”

In a video released early Friday morning Ukraine time, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky said that 137 Ukrainians, both military and civilian, had been killed in the Russian invasion. Zelensky also noted that Russia has marked him “target No.1 and my family as the target No.2.

“They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state,” he added.

In response to the invasion, U.S. President Joe Biden, at a news conference Thursday afternoon, announced new economic sanctions on Russia that block assets of large Russian banks, impose export controls on technology, and directly impact wealthy Russians and their families that are close to the Kremlin. Biden also ordered the deployment of thousands of troops to NATO ally Germany, though he said American troops would not get involved in Ukraine.

The U.S. didn’t personally sanction Putin, or take the step of cutting off Russia from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), which many, including Archbishop Gudziak, have said should be considered.

The archbishop wasn’t confident the announced sanctions will have a profound impact.

“It’s not going to stop him. He needs to be stopped,” Archbishop Gudziak said. “Every person that is being killed is a tragedy and it’s a tragedy not only for Ukraine, but it’s a tragedy for Russia.”

“The sanctions should be paralyzing. There should be more,” he continued. “The West has been late, slow, late, and irresolute. It’s getting better but it’s not enough.”

Throughout the day Ukrainian Catholics in the U.S. reacted to the news.

Oksana Ivasiev got news of the invasion when she arrived at St. Gregory Ukrainian Catholic Church in lower Manhattan for morning Mass on Thursday. When The Tablet spoke with Ivasiev later that morning she was one of the few people left in the church. She said her family in western Ukraine is away from the attacks, but she began to cry when she considered the hardship, danger, and uncertainty people face elsewhere in the country, saying, “It’s so sad.”

Ivasiev said the best thing people can do is “pray a lot” for peace because “that’s what you do, and you have to believe that God will help us.”

Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Thursday that “may our prayers, joined with those of the people around the world, help guide those waging war to end the meaningless suffering and restore peace.”

Bishop Robert Brennan of Brooklyn called the news of the invasion “shocking, but not necessarily surprising” in a statement on Thursday, adding that the diocese is praying for the people of Ukraine, and the Ukrainian community in the diocese. New York City is home to the largest Ukrainian population in the U.S.

“We turn to the Lord in our moment of need,” Bishop Brennan said. “We ask the Lord to watch over and protect those who are in harm’s way, and also, we pray that it does not escalate.”

Archbishop Gudziak said prayer is the number one way that “all people of good will” can help Ukranians because “we believe the grace of God affects miracles.”

He also called on Catholics, and other Americans, to be informed and know the truth and push aside disinformation. The third thing people can do, the archbishop added, is donate humanitarian aid and supplies to help meet the need for food, blankets, bedding, medicine and other essential items.

Archbishop Gudziak highlighted that there were 2 million refugees after Ukrainian territory was occupied by Russia in 2014, which he said begs the question, “What would happen if five regions were occupied?”

Archbishop Gudziak is also the president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. He said officials at the university are doing whatever they can to “make any contribution to the defense, dignity and freedom of the country.” So far, that’s included setting up to take in refugees that flee eastern Ukraine, and working with international correspondents looking for information.

Archbishop Gudziak said he spoke with Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych on Thursday morning, and told him that “they spent much of the day in what amounts to a bunker in the basement of the big Cathedral,” but that “they’re safe.”

As for what Archbishop Gudziak anticipates happening next, he said if Putin takes control of the capital he’ll install a “puppet government” and then do what he has to do to get it recognized and legitimized on an international level. He said that’s why the U.S. and western Europe should’ve acted sooner, as opposed to [merely] expressing concern for the possibility of the invasion that was witnessed on Thursday.

“When I go into a subway and there’s someone beating up on a lady I’m not going to say ‘I’m deeply concerned about the violence that you’re committing on this person,’” Archbishop Gudziak said. “It’s my gospel imperative to try to do what I can to defend this person from evil and from harm.”