365 days of horror, terror, and unprovoked aggression. The peaceful country of Ukraine has now suffered a full year of hostility at the hands of the Russian Federation who invaded the sovereign nation on February 24th, 2022. As the skies grew dark, and a cold wind blew, the Ukrainian Cultural Center, located at the Metropolia Center of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, opened its doors to the public, to join in a prayerful service for Ukraine. Quietly the cavernous hall began to fill with people who had come to show their support for our embattled ancestral homeland. The room was dimly lit, evocative of the darkness that covers much of Ukraine due to the destruction of the power grid.
As the people entered, their eyes were drawn to the images which flanked the circumference of the room. They very graphically depicted devastation, death and destruction. Images of bombed cities, destroyed villages, and bombed churches stood next to even more heartbreaking images of weeping and terrorized civilians presented just a glimpse of the horrors brought upon the people of Ukraine by the unjustifiable invasion of Russian Federation on land and sea and through the air. They were, however, powerful enough to evoke in the hearts of those viewing them the brutality endured by the innocent people of Ukraine over the past 365 days.
Archbishop Daniel opened the ceremony, introducing the seminarians of the Saint Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary. He explained the history of the sad and bittersweet song they would sing, “Plyve Kacha Po Tysyni” (The Duckling Swims in Tysyna), which for generations of Ukrainians has been a song warning of the risks of warfare. It became associated nine years ago with the “Maidan Revolution of Dignity” as it was sung during the mass funerals of the “Heavenly Hundred” and more innocent people who were brutally murdered by agents of their own government on 18-20 February 2014. The song again today echoes across Ukraine, during countless funerals of those innocents lost to the Russian invasion.
As the seminarians sang the soulful melody, the deep and haunting lyrics deeply moved even those who did not understand the Ukrainian metaphorical words spoken by a son to his mother: “Oh, I will die on foreign lands, who will lay me in my grave?” the son asks his mother, to which the mother weeps in reply exclaiming her sorrow and how he had once rested his head upon her heart… as the melody fades, the duckling/son floats away…and the mother weeps bitterly. As the seminarians sang, people lowered their heads, many moved to tears.
Into this solemn atmosphere, as the slow and mournful refrain was sung, the doors opened as the procession of hierarchs entered, led by students of St. Andrew Ukrainian School holding burning candles, bringing light and hope into the darkness. The hierarchs were Bishop Saba, Ruling Hierarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church in the USA; Roman Catholic Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, NJ, Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, Bishop Apostolos, representing Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of the USA; Bishop Paul Chomycky, Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, CT.
Archbishop Daniel once continued the program explaining that the current invasion in Ukraine is the largest conflict on European soil since the Second World War and listed some of the statistics of the current Russian attack against Ukraine. 365 days have resulted in 14 million Ukrainians forced to flee their homes – 8 million refugees to neighboring nations and 5.9 million internally displaced persons within Ukraine; 18,955 civilian casualties; tens of thousands of troops; tens of thousands of Ukrainian children abducted to into Russia to be “re-educated”; 5,000 cruise missiles fired at Ukraine; 10,000 drone attacks; 3,500 air strikes on civilian populated areas; 200 direct attacks on civilians – including torture, kidnapping, killing and desecration of dead bodies; 760 hospitals bombed; 3,139 schools destroyed; 1.7 billion people worldwide facing food shortages because of little or not Ukrainian grains being exported; 58,000 war crimes including killings, kidnappings, bombings, and assault – 365 days of war and terror adding up to nothing less than genocide and ethnic cleansing, as it has been identified in United Nations conferences at this anniversary.
Archbishop Daniel stated that even those these official numbers are horrific to contemplate, they are probably only a fraction of what the actual numbers are. Even worse, is the impact inflicted upon the most innocent of all – the children. While many have been killed, countless ones maimed, others suffer due to family separation, violence, abuse, sexual exploitation and trafficking - all have been terrorized, all have lost their innocence.
Ani Gekalo stepped on stage and sang “The Ballad of Mallows” (Balada pro Mal’vy) – a sorrowful song written by Volodymyr Ivasyuk based on a poem by Bohdan Gura. about a mother awaiting her daughter’s return from war. As her sweet voice evoked the images of a anxious mother, filled with fear, yet hoping for her daughter’s return, the audience realized this same scenario is being repeated hundreds of times in Ukraine this very day.
The struggle was further visualized and brought home through the interpretive dance performed by the students of the St. Andrew Ukrainian School of Ukrainian Studies called “I am Ukraine. I will endure the pain.” Nastya Kaspruk choreographed an evocative dance, highlighted by solo performance by Vernika Nalivaiko depicting the battle for freedom, falling, yet rising and fighting again.
Ani Gakalo next recited a heart wrenching poem - "Ukraine Stood Proudly in the Field" and was followed by another moving dance performed by the girls of the St. Andrew School, called “Fog Above the Earth”, choreographed by Nastya Kaspruk. The dance demonstrated that while war is disastrous to any nation, economically and culturally. However, the dance also reiterated that the one who defends his land, wins, as Ukraine is destined to win.
In appreciation of their effort and skill, Archbishop Daniel thanked all the students, both boys and girls, for their participation in the day’s program, and recognized the Director of the School, Uliana Zavaliy, for her continued efforts in teaching the future generations, and instilling in them a sense of pride in their Ukrainian heritage.
The prayerful commemoration was supported by numerous clergy and dignitaries, who were present to participate in the evening’s prayer service. His Eminence took a moment to recognize the numerous Ukrainian, Greek, Georgian Orthodox Churches, from the Ukrainian and Roman Catholic Churches, along with faith leaders and ministers from Protestant Churches and other religious communities in New Jersey who were present, along with the Mayor of the Franklin Township Phil Kramer, County Commissioners Melonie Marano and Paul Drake; Mayor of South Bound Brook Borough Chris Shoffner; NJ State Senator Doug Steinhardt, representing the 23rd Legislative District, of which Franklin Towhship and Somerset are part and finally the representatives of various Somerset/Franklin Township community organizations present.
Gesturing to the front row of seats, Archbishop Daniel introduced a good friend of the Ukrainian people – His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Tobin of the Roman-Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, who previously served as archbishop in Indianapolis and often traveled to Ukraine and invited him to speak a few words. Cardinal Joseph explained that the Roman Catholic faithful stand with Ukraine. They ask for comfort for those who mourn, hope for those who despair, and compassion for those who suffer. We plead for an end of the aggression and violence perpetrated against Ukraine and entrust her destiny to the eternal care of the Mother of God.
Archbishop Elpidophorus of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America was not able to join us this evening, but Bishop Apostopolos of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of New Jersey, was present to represent him, reading a letter from the Archbishop, who wrote: “We continue to witness an immense tragedy of human suffering: the targeting of civilians, assassinations and terror and the deaths of innocent lives, especially children. From the very beginning of the invasion war, His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew stated: ‘we…plead to end the war now. To immediately stop any act of violence, anything that spreads pain and death. Let reason prevail, love for fellow human beings, reconciliation and solidarity, the Light of the Risen Christ, the Gift of life.’ These words still resonate today as on the first day. …Together, as Orthodox Christians and as Americans, we pray for peace. But peace cannot be achieved as long as there is no justice. Our prayers are for peace with justice, so that this senseless onslaught in Ukraine stops once and for all.”
His Grace Bishop Sava of the Georgian Apostolic Orthodox Church in North America was introduced. Georgian and Ukrainian people share the same pain of being invaded by Russia and under constant threat of destruction by their violent neighbor. On February 24, the day the Russian invasion was announced, thousands of Georgians took to the streets of the capital, Tbilisi, in protest – with some estimates claiming that up to 30,000 joined the march along the city’s Rustaveli Avenue.
Bishop Paul Chomnycky of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Stamford, CT. His Grace stated that when we sprak with a common voice and we will be effective. We can do three things to make a difference – speak the objective truth, inform people in our communities, standing up against the powerful propaganda machine of Russia. Secondly, we can offer material and financial support to those who are in need, which we are doing and we must thank those in the Ukrainian community and most especially all our local American communities who have stepped up and donated generously. The third thing is prayer. We must continue to pray asking the Lord to convert the hearts of the invaders, and to protect Ukraine and her people.
Archbishop Daniel explained that the Ukrainian Consul General Oleksii Golubov was unable to join in the program that evening because the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine has arrived to meet with the United Nations. He was represented this evening by Consul Vadym Tkachuk. In his remarks he stated: “… the yearlong invasion of Ukraine will end and it is our responsibility to make personal investments in a stable and free society.”
The Archbishop took a few minutes to welcome the members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine present for the commemoration and to express the gratitude of all present for their sacrifice and commitment to peace and freedom in Ukraine. The soldiers have come to the USA as part of a program called “Kind Deeds”, supported by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, to be fitted with prosthetic arms, legs and feet lost in battle enabling them to return to Ukraine and resume normal lives.
At this point in the program 8:55pm, Archbishop Daniel asked all the participants to rise for several minutes of silent reflection and prayer for the people all throughout Ukraine and beyond her borders who continue to suffer the brutality of the Russian invasion and to also remember the thousands of lives lost over the past year. The profound and absolute silence of these minutes spoke volumes about the fact that people truly comprehended the purpose of the commemoration. At 9:00pm (4:00am in Kyiv) a bell rang out loudly over the sound system, as the bells rang out in Kyiv and all Ukraine – for it was at 4:00am one year ago that the bombing began at the beginning of the invasion.
A Moleben Prayer service was celebrated for the welfare of all the people – the nation – of Ukraine beseeching our Lord’s action to end the suffering, horror and death, returning the aggressors to their own nation, through the prayers and intercession of the Birth-Giver of God and Ever Virgin Mary along with all the Saints of Ukraine. At the conclusion of the Moleben, the prayer for the repose and eternal memory of those members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and all the civilians who have perished in the invasion.
Metropolitan Antony, Prime Hierarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, concluded the commemoration of one year since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine expressing his overwhelming gratitude to not only the people of the USA, but to the entire world for its profound response to the invasion. 90 years ago when Josef Stalin conducted a man-made famine – the HOLODOMOR – against Ukraine starving to death over seven million people, one of the worst acts of genocide in recorded history – the world reacted in complete silence, in spite of the fact that the genocide was known by world leaders. Today, the world has reacted in a very different way – with loud voices condemning the Russian Federation and Vladimir Putin for a completely unjustified invasion of a neighboring nation in an attempt to eradicate it from the face of the earth.
His Eminence spoke of conversations with individuals who felt completely powerLESS when faced with the daily news of the horror in Ukraine. He responded to those feelings of powerlessness by calling to memory the Maidan Revolution of Dignity, when people gathered and their individual powerLESSness was transformed into “powerFULness” beyond imagination and they changed the course of Ukraine’s history. When we gather at commemorations such as we have now, we are also powerFUL in beseeching the help of our Lord to bring an end to the genocide occurring before our eyes.
The Metropolitan was moved beyond words at the hundreds present for the commemoration and to the hundreds and thousands of powerFUL donations from Americans of all backgrounds who have made it possible for our Church to provide assistance to Ukraine totaling three million dollars, which is only a tiny portion of all the aid the world has provided to Ukraine, her people and to all the refugees forced to flee to other countries of the world. We are blessed. He expressed his personal gratitude to all the religious and governmental leaders present for the commemoration and to all who pray powerFULLy for Ukraine and her right to exist as a free and self-determined nation.
Photos by Fr. Vasyl Pasakas, Fr. Ivan Tchopko, Subdeacon Maksym Zhuravchyk and Valentyna Dovban