Conflicts & War

Drones, radios and prayers from a US church to aid Ukraine

By Eduard Ribas i Admetlla

Silver Spring, Maryland, Mar 17 (EFE).- With her mother still in Ukraine and ready to take up arms to defend her country, Olena is gathering aid items for the people of the beleaguered nation at a Ukrainian Orthodox Church outside Washington DC, aid that not only includes food and medicines but also potential war materiel like drones and walkie-talkies.

The slogan on her t-shirt leaves no doubt: “I stand with Ukraine.” It’s support that consists of tirelessly packing box after box at the St. Nicholas Cathedral, the only Ukrainian Orthodox Church in the US capital’s metro area.

“I do know my family, so I knew they said nope, I wouldn’t (leave). This is our land, so we’re protecting (it), we’re not going anywhere. Even my mom, who’s 68 years old, said ‘Give me a gun, I’ll protect (too)’ and the folks were laughing, saying ‘You’re a little old lady, you can’t hold it.’ So, no, they’re staying. They do not want to leave,” Olena, who has lived for more than 15 years in the US, told EFE.

Her brother is in Kyiv and, although Olena could not provide many details, she suggested that he is fighting, adding that everybody’s doing what they have to do.

With her family on her mind, every day Olena tries to go to the collection center set up in the church, located in Silver Spring, Maryland, where local residents have been demonstrating their solidarity with Ukraine and Ukrainians since Russia invaded the neighboring country on Feb. 24.

For the past three weeks, the St. Nicholas Cathedral has had its doors open during the day to take in humanitarian aid that it ships to Ukraine every 48 hours via two transport companies. The church has already sent more than 2,000 boxes of items to the wartorn East European country.

The church has gone from being the site for weddings and celebrations into a real crisis center.

Quickly the volunteers assemble new boxes, filling them with all sorts of items: canned food, ibuprofen, a Mickey Mouse doll and even a drone.

Working against the clock, volunteers like Olena classify the aid items with colored tape. Clothing and hygiene products are yellow, blue is for food, medicines are red and items for the soldiers are green.

Every day, it is someone else’s turn to bring dinner to the church. Today, Tamara Woroby, the president of the parish, is the one with that task, and she says that she is puzzled by the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I think it’s absolutely horrific. It’s beyond … the nightmare of anybody … and why one single mind could do something like this is simply too much to comprehend,” said the woman of Ukrainian origin, who was born after World War II in Canada, where her parents settled after fleeing the Soviet Union.

After the war erupted, the welcoming center was established in the church, where the personnel and volunteers already had experience collecting aid during the 2014 conflict, when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, an integral part of Ukraine.

“Medical supplies, medical supplies, medical supplies,” said Tamara when asked about what Ukrainians need.

After a pause, she added: “And of course … military support, which we at the church can’t do but we pray that the US government and NATO will at least help them militarily.”

So far, the parish has received several drones, walkie-talkie sets, boots, lanterns and sleeping bags, all of which have been earmarked for Ukrainian combatants.

While the volunteers continue with their tasks, Father Volodymyr Steliac works in another way from the church, which is connected to the event hall by a corridor.

“Since day one, we started with one thing, and that is prayer,” the priest said, adding that he spent every night in prayer in the church during the first week of the invasion.

The gold-domed church was constructed in 1988 in honor of the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

After celebrating Mass, which is done every day, Steliac helps with the boxes and tries not to think too much about the support that the Russian Orthodox Church has been giving to Putin’s war plans.

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