“A time to pray”: the Ukrainian church deploys its faith | Columbia County


HUDSON — When it was confirmed last week that Russian troops were beginning a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Karen Lewis, 64, a registered nurse, knelt down and prayed to Jesus and the Virgin Mary to intercede in the conflict.

“That’s what Ukrainians do,” she says. “They pray to the Blessed Mother.”

She then called her daughter Caroline who volunteered with the Peace Corps in Hirske to make sure her foster family was safe.

So far they are, she says.

Russian troops did not reach the small village, eight hours west of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, where the threat of air raids is low. Nonetheless, in anticipation of a bloodbath, the bright-eyed 16-year-olds Caroline helped teach in 2020 are now 18 and looking for weapons to fight for their country.

Lewis and about 50 other members of the local community gathered at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hudson on Sunday, the first Sabbath day since the war began.

The prayer began before Father John Jedrychowski came up to the altar. Men and women held their palms up in worship. Small children were playing peekaboo with each other, blissfully unaware of the war.

In his main sermon he asked, “Why do people hate each other so much?” He then answered his own question: “Because we forget God.

The church invites congregants to donate to a fund established by the Philadelphia metropolis.

“Even though we are here, so far away, we are still connected to Ukraine by blood, and by relatives we haven’t even met yet. We care about what is happening to our people,” said Rebecca Romanchuk, 64, a Stuyvesant Falls homemaker and church member.

Between 1900 and 1930, Columbia County’s population grew by 30%, 20% of whom were of Balto-Slavic descent, according to a historical book published by St. Nicholas Church in 1998 and written by Reverend Richard Washburn.

Rebecca Romanchuk recalled meeting the Ukrainian refugees who founded St. Nicholas.

“They couldn’t afford benches and used old theater seats,” she said. “I remember saying to my husband, we can’t let this parish die out.”

In 2005, Rebecca and her husband James helped the church move from a small building across the street to the old Old Lady of Mt. Carmel Roman Catholic Church building. They attend services weekly. Their son, Peter Romanchuk, 28, a self-employed carpenter, drove his family from Virginia to join his church. He has a friend in Ukraine at the moment who refuses to leave. In reality, he cannot. Every man over 18 and under 60 is drafted to fight, and all women have the opportunity to serve.

“The situation is so complex that the only way out is to pray,” said Rebecca Romanchuk. Her husband agrees: “I think that in today’s world there are many problems beyond the capabilities of war and can only be solved through prayer,” he said.

Lewis is not a member of St. Nicholas but felt it was his duty to pray in a Ukrainian church. Her grandmother left Ukraine in the late 19th century for Hudson, and she feels a cultural and spiritual connection to the country after visiting her daughter there in 2020.

Lewis’ daughter, Caroline Lewis, 26, is working on her master’s degree in international development at the University of Arizona. She thinks there are many other ways to help in the war in Ukraine besides prayer.

Caroline Lewis suggested transferring money directly to the National Bank of Ukraine, saying in disbelief that the New York Police Department has a bigger budget than all of Ukraine.

She also suggested donating to Caritas Internationalis, a Catholic relief charity. Caroline Lewis also stressed the importance of reaching out to local congressional representatives, lobbying elected officials to increase penalties, and donating additional funds and weapons.

“It helped a lot,” she said.

Karen Lewis contacts Caroline’s former foster family – what she calls her “adoptive family” – and tries to send them money and prayers. But it is difficult for Ukrainians to withdraw money from ATMs at the moment, according to several news outlets.

“I keep using the same word, I’m horrified,” she said. “Putin is like a Hitler with nuclear weapons.”

There was a gloomy feeling at the Sunday service, as if the congregation wanted to do more.

“Let’s pray to the Lord,” Jedrychowski said. “Lord, have mercy,” the congregation responded.

After the service ended, Karen Lewis remained seated, bowing her head in prayer and engaging in conversation with old friends.

“I trust that peace will prevail, good will come,” she said.

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