People flock to U.S. Ukrainian churches to show solidarity

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Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine two weeks ago, Ukrainian churches in the United States have been filled with Americans of all faiths — and some who have no religious affiliation — in a show of support for and solidarity with the besieged nation.

“While what’s happening in Ukraine is an international story, it also hits close to home and hearts throughout the country,” said Shapiro, 64, who spoke at a Feb. 27 prayer service and rally at St. Vladimir. “We’re all witnessing the horrific images coming out of Ukraine, and our hearts are heavy.”

“As Jews, we know only too well what can happen when democracy and the rule of law are threatened,” Shapiro added. “We want to reach out and embrace the Ukrainian community in warmth and love.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the Ukrainian Catholic National Shrine of the Holy Family in Washington to light a candle on Wednesday.

“It’s in the most difficult moments that our faith is tested,” he said at the service.

In western Massachusetts, Kerry Weber found she wasn’t alone in her desire to do something — anything — to show her concern for Ukraine.

Weber, who writes about religion for a living, said when she learned that a Ukrainian Catholic church near her town of East Longmeadow was holding a rosary prayer service for peace on Feb. 28, she drove 15 minutes to the chapel and found an emotional surprise among the 100 people there.

At the end of the service, a church member asked the small congregation whether anyone had something to share, she said.

“This woman who was with a group of 12 adults and children stood up and said, ‘As you can see, we are Muslim,’ ” recalled Weber. “She said that her family wanted to show their solidarity for the people of Ukraine.”

“It’s a nice reminder that a lot of grace can happen if you allow an opportunity for solidarity,” she said. “It was so beautiful and moving that as soon as I got home, I knew I had to write about it.”

Beverly Johnson-Miller, who attends St. Luke United Methodist Church in Lexington, said she organized the prayer vigil a few days before the invasion when she learned that an attack on Ukraine was imminent.

“I couldn’t sleep and was wondering how to help,” said Miller, 66. “We all want to do something to help during this crisis, and it’s important to show support for the Ukrainians in our own communities. I wanted to show them how deeply we all care.”

She said she was a bit nervous about calling Pastor Yaroslav “Jerry” Boyechko at the Ukrainian Pentecostal Church on short notice to ask for permission to hold a public vigil in his parking lot.

“But he was all for it, so I started making calls and put the word out that anyone was welcome to come and encircle the church physically and spiritually,” she said.

Boyechko, who immigrated to the United States from the former Soviet Union in 1989, said he and his congregation of 1,100 were touched to see people of all faiths holding hands while singing and praying outside their chapel on a chilly evening.

Almost all of the church’s members have friends and relatives who are in Ukraine, he said.

“We really appreciate the support from the American people as this is a very hard time right now for Ukraine,” said Boyechko, noting that his church is urging people to send donations to Hope for Ukraine.

New York City has more than 60,000 Ukrainian immigrants — the largest community in the United States. — and she wanted to observe the Pentecostal congregation’s response to the invasion.

Like Weber, she said she was surprised.

“When I walked in, I thought at first that I was in the wrong place,” said Belz, 35. “I was surrounded by Koreans.”

She soon learned that about 30 members of a Korean church in the city had also decided to spend their Sunday at a Ukrainian worship service.

Belz wrote on Twitter: “I went to a Ukrainian evangelical church service today in Manhattan, and the back quarter of the church was full with members of a Korean church that the Ukrainians know. They all just showed up to be with them today.”

Belz said she was touched by the humanity of it.

“To watch them sing together and pray together and cry out to God for help was really moving,” she said. “It was a wonderful feeling of unity.”

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