Nearly five months after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and as the war seemed to be losing a sense of urgency in the daily news cycle — Christians in the Chicago area gathered to try to keep the issue top-of-mind and to pray for peace in Ukraine.
Ukrainian refugees in Chicago were among those gathered at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral to pray the Moleben During Time of War on 18 July. A moleben is a short, Byzantine prayer service of supplication.
“Not in weapons do we trust, and our shield will not save us, O Lord, but we entreat your almighty help and counting on your strength we stand firm against our enemies, faithfully calling upon your name and praying with compunction,” the deacon chanted, leading the congregation in the litany of supplication.
“We pray for the Lord our God to hear the voice of our prayers,” he continued. “Protect all the people of Ukraine during this time of hardship and have mercy on his servants, the soldiers, to save them from deadly wounds and all spiritual and physical sickness, to protect them from all sorrow, disaster, anger and misery, and for their healthy and safe return.”
The prayer service was part of a two-day pastoral visit to Eastern Catholic communities in Chicago by CNEWA President Msgr. Peter I. Vaccari.
Father Roman Bobesiuk, assistant pastor of the cathedral, in his homily thanked CNEWA for its work in assisting Ukraine in recent months.
“You felt our pain and not only felt, but reacted as our brothers in Christ,” he said, noting that the papal agency has disbursed millions to provide immediate relief to Ukrainian families devastated by Russia’s invasion.
“Thank you very much for your love, kindness and help. Your support is very important to us during this horrible war. And your presence today with us also is a sign from God that he is with his suffering people,” he said.
Prior to the moleben, parishioner Phyllis Muryn Zaparaniuk shared a brief history of the cathedral parish and offered a short introduction to the Byzantine rite.
“As Eastern Catholics, we are often ignored or forgotten,” said Zaparaniuk.
“It is important for us to be here, to make this trip,” Msgr. Vaccari told those gathered.
He spoke of a recent meeting he attended in Rome of a Vatican coalition of funding agencies, known by its Italian acronym, ROACO, during which an emergency session was dedicated to the situation in Ukraine. Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych addressed the participants from Kyiv, as did the papal nuncio to Ukraine.
“Therefore, there is tremendous support for Ukraine” among the various agencies, Msgr. Vaccari said, including at CNEWA, which continues to work with the papal nuncios in Ukraine’s neighboring countries and is preparing to release additional emergency funds for the Ukraine effort in the coming weeks. He said he and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, CNEWA’s board chair, made a pastoral visit to the region in May.
After the prayer service, a number of the Ukrainian refugees present joined Msgr. Vaccari for supper in the community hall.
During the dinner, Dasha Diachenko spoke about her harrowing journey through seven countries, eventually arriving in Chicago in April. She recounted how she and an acquaintance escaped the fighting in Kyiv in early March, driving south through the country along back roads to Moldova. From there, she continued to Romania, then Austria, France and Mexico.
After weeks of waiting in Tijuana, she managed to book a flight to Sacramento and then to Chicago. The last leg of her travel, from Austria to the United States, cost 6,300 euros, depleting the last of her resources.
A media professional back in Ukraine, Diachenko is currently teaching English to other Ukrainian refugees and their children at a summer school program offered at the Ukrainian Greek Catholic cathedral. The program intends to give the children a basic knowledge of English in preparation for the beginning of the school year in August.
Diachenko, along with about 70 other Ukrainian refugees welcomed by the cathedral, nestled in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, is slowly rebuilding her life. However, her thoughts remain in Ukraine.
Diachenko’s family has stayed in Kharkiv, where she grew up, despite her repeated attempts to convince them to flee. Every day, her brother sends her photos and videos from the city, hard-hit by the Russian forces, she said calmly, as tears rolled down her cheeks: missiles shooting across a night sky, bombed out buildings, destroyed infrastructure, some only 500 feet from her mother’s home.
The anxiety of having family in the midst of such danger is overwhelming, she said.
Laura Ieraci is assistant editor of ONE.