Faith and contempt for Putin move a Ukrainian church in Manchester.
The Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church has been home to recently arrived Ukrainians and subsequent generations for more than a hundred years.
Each Sunday, the 50 children and adults who make up this parish fill up the benches to hear the mass in Ukrainian. They sing, receive communion, and have coffee and pastries after, but since the war started, they stayed longer to pray the rosary for peace in their country.
On this Sunday, March 6, they gathered after the service, holding little Ukrainian flags and talking about the war. They asked each other about family members they still have there. Many are upset with the unprovoked invasion and blame Putin for the crisis.
Mariya Popovich and her husband Petro were born in Western Ukraine. She says she cries every day and calls Putin a killer. She worries the most about children who have to abandon their homes during the freezing nights.
Her husband Petro, who served in the Ukrainian military for 23 years, is visibly angry and gets emotional when he says that Putin is killing brothers and sisters, referring to Russians as family.
Martha Majkut is worried her husband’s family doesn’t have a basement bunker to hide in. “They had to go outside and find other places to hide to get through the night,” she said. Her parents had to flee during World War Two, so she understands the inferno the exodus is.
“He [Putin] is a madman as far as I am concerned. These people have done nothing wrong and they have been bombed in the middle of the night,” said Majkut. She thinks the United States can do more to preserve Ukrainian independence.
Parishioners are also praying for the well-being of president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and for the more than 1.3 million Ukrainians who have fled their homes since the war started.
As Russians press forward and encircle humanitarian corridors, first-generation Ukrainian Joroslaw Maksymowich worries his family members will have to evacuate soon. He says the church in Manchester has helped many people maintain their culture, but in moments like this, you can see how close they are.
“There are significant ties between people here and people in Ukraine. They are passionate about letting the world know who we are,” he said.
Yury Skliaryk was born in Belarus but has family in Ukraine. He’s anxiously watching the news. He feels appalled and in shock. He says Belarus is helping Putin attack from the north, which is a double pain. He is divided between his country and Ukraine.
At the end of the service, the church organizers distributed information on where to donate and how to support people in Ukraine. They say they have heard about many scammers and don’t want people to fall for them.
NPR has published a list of organizations you can support.
Organizers say you can also support Ukraine by attending weekend mass.