CHICAGO (RNS) — When Chicagoans gathered to demonstrate solidarity with Ukraine on Thursday (Feb. 24), hours after Russia launched a large-scale invasion of its western neighbor, they didn’t gather at the Ukrainian Cultural Center.
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They didn’t gather at the bank up the street either, pointed out Ihor Ralko, 60, of Chicago.
Rather, they gathered on the steps in front of Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church in the city’s Ukrainian Village neighborhood, spilling onto the sidewalk and into the street.
The church is where many Ukrainians turn when there’s trouble, said Ralko, who came to the United States from Ukraine three years ago and is a member of Sts. Volodymyr and Olha. It’s where they find light in dark times.
“When the problem is darkness in the soul, they go to church to get the light,” he said.
Many people at Thursday’s rally, organized by the Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago across the street, waved Ukrainian flags. Others wore the blue and yellow stripes draped around their shoulders against the cold, wintry weather and occasional snowflake.
Some held handmade signs with messages like “Pray for Ukraine.”
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Inna Zotikova, 26, of Chicago, stood in the middle of the church steps holding a sign that read “Stop war!”
Zotikova said she and her husband immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine a year ago. She came to Sts. Volodymyr and Olha because she was angry and because she hopes the U.S. won’t just watch as Ukrainians are killed.
“We really need help,” she said.
Olena Balaban, 49, of Chicago, is “very concerned” about her relatives in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. They’re sheltering now and considering leaving the city, she said, but they’re not really safe anywhere in the country. Shelling and missile strikes have been reported across Ukraine, according to The New York Times.
Balaban said she came to Thursday’s rally because she is a Ukrainian citizen. But, she added, “Everyone is Ukrainian right now.”
Religion is a big part of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine — part of the history Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to claim, said Balaban, who is a member of Sts. Volodymyr and Olha.
Religion is also what gives Ukrainians strength, she said.
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Sts. Volodymyr and Olha livestreamed an online prayer service “in time of war and attack of enemies” Thursday evening, asking on Facebook for “joint prayers for victory over evil and for peace in Ukraine and all over the universe.” On Sunday, the Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago is planning a second rally outside the church.
Up the street, St. Nicholas Cathedral School is planning a prayer vigil for its students on Monday afternoon, according to St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral.
“We’re praying. We’re praying and praying and praying,” Balaban said. “We’re just hoping that God will save Ukraine.”