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March 06, 2014

Chicago's Ukrainian Community Prays for Peace in Ukraine

by Kane Farabaugh

As Chicago's large Ukrainian American community begins to observe the Christian season of Lent, many are turning to their faith to overcome the anxiety of what Russia's next move could mean for the independence of their home country.

At the Ukrainian National Museum on Chicago's West Side, the pictures and artifacts on display bring the turmoil in Ukraine closer to home.
 
 "My brother went there first in December. He felt a deep connection with the people on the Maidan, the Maidan being the main square of Kyiv," explained retiree Oleh Sajewych.

His brother is George Sajewych, a former reporter for the Voice of America. On a second visit to Kyiv in February, he was attacked during the deadly crackdown on protests.
 
The first hint to Oleh that his brother survived was video footage and an interview with George in the hospital that was broadcast around the world.
 
"Just talked to my brother today. He's sore. He just got out of the hospital on Monday. His arm was operated on," Oleh Sajewych said.
 
While the news about his brother is a positive development, the Russian incursion into Crimea in the wake of the protests has created new concerns for the Sajewych family.
 
"My wife's cousin's husband is in a naval base in Odessa, and at this time he is in harm's way, because he is surrounded by Russian soldiers - this is Putin's soldiers, let's not play games, this is Putin's army. Ultimatums have been issued, and if there is fighting, he's going to be slaughtered," said Oleh Sajewych.
 
Almost anywhere you go in Chicago's Ukrainian Village, there are blue and yellow flags flying in a show of solidarity with the home country. This is a community founded on faith, displayed by the iconic onion-shaped domes that dot the skyline.
 
A blue and gold flag also flies below the domes of St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral, though not as high as others.
 
 "It's meaning that we are in sorrow, that we are praying for those hundred people who lost their lives for the freedom and salvation of Ukraine," explained Reverend Bohdan Nalysnyk, director of St. Nicholas. " It will be there for 40 days, out of tradition."
 
The unrest in Ukraine comes during the Christian holy period of Lent, a time of daily church services. As Nalysnyk leads his congregation in prayer and reflection, he admits his thoughts are sometimes with his family still living in western Ukraine.
 
They are thoughts shared by most members of this immigrant community that number in the tens of thousands. Many are only one or two generations removed from the country they left.
 
"The Ukrainians here support whatever efforts the Ukrainians in Ukraine are doing to keep that country free," St. Nicholas business manager Phyllis Muryn Zaparaniuk said, adding that backing from Chicago's Ukrainian community has come through donations of money, clothes for the protesters and medical supplies, though she wishes she could do more.

"There are times I wish I was there, but I know there's nothing I can do."
 
Zaparaniuk said that in times of helplessness, the community turns to Father Nalysnyk for guidance and wisdom.
 
Nalysnyk believes Ukraine's resurrection will come once Russian troops leave, and the Ukrainian people get the opportunity to vote on the future of their government.

"To give hope that everything will be OK. Like we say in church, after Friday comes Sunday, the resurrection," he said.