Ukraine’s battle against its Russian invaders reaches far and wide into the hearts and minds of Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians alike. It reaches even into Apopka, centering in on St. Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church.
Ukrainian Independence Day took place August 24th and marked the 32nd anniversary of the country breaking free of the Soviet Union. Now, more than ever, Ukrainians celebrate and recognize this holiday as they once again find their homeland and their freedom on a razor’s edge. On August 27th, a Sunday, the church community met to worship their Lord and hold a celebration in honor of their country’s independence. Ukrainian patriotism was on full display in the tradition of song and poem.
President of St. Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church Volodymyr Chornyy said that the church was established in the 1940s and that he and the community will support its legacy. Through the church, events and demonstrations are organized. For example, on Ukrainian Independence Day, they held a demonstration of solidarity at Lake Eola by creating a human chain in support of Ukrainian independence.
“ community is strong. Usually, everyone is involved, and being president in this community is really easy and honorable because people are very much appreciative of each other and have a strong Ukrainian bond,” Chornyy said.
Donations are raised through the church in order to send provisions back to Ukraine. Chornyy said that “six or seven trucks” of supplies are being sent to Ukraine every month. He said that donations are pouring in from “different nationalities” in the Greater Orlando area. Initially, they were sending clothes and food, but as time progressed, they began to add on medical supplies and tactical gear. The church has created networks with non-profit and military organizations in Ukraine that allow for aid to be delivered where it is needed most.
“I would like to thank the United States who took the biggest and most major step in supporting Ukraine…” Chornyy said. “…And I hope this support will never wane because we will need them more and more because we are fighting a big and strong country who just wants to change the rule of order in the world and wants to demolish democracy…”
Yaryna Levytska, one of the many native Ukrainians who attend the church, said her love for her country has always inspired her to spend significant portions of time back home. That was until the war began. Now, she spends less time in Ukraine but is determined to travel there and help in any way she can as a volunteer.
Through her volunteer work, Levytska helps citizens, soldiers, and animals. She keeps a car in Ukraine that she uses to drive around the entire country and offers help when and where she can. One of her acts of selflessness is helping displaced Ukrainians who have been driven from their homes by Russian soldiers. She purchases clothing and materials to repair damaged buildings after the territory the people fled from has been reclaimed.
Levytska faces a challenge every time she prepares to return to the US, but the grounding force that draws her back is her husband and daughter.
“I live with Ukraine in my heart all the time,” Levytska said. “You know, this last time I came back, two weeks ago, from Ukraine, it was difficult for me to come back.”
Levytska has come to realize, though, that she can fight her part of the battle from the US by educating and helping to raise support for her beloved Ukraine. What she has brought back with her are memories of life under the Soviet Union and messages and sentiments from Ukrainian soldiers that express the importance of celebrating Ukraine’s independence.
“…It took a long time to get this independence. We were on our knees. We were slaves, and they stole our self…” Levytska said. “…Even the soldiers say you have to celebrate this… in this way [we show] our support because they fight for this independence…”
Levytska is not alone, as other members of the church travel to Ukraine with important objectives. Vasyl Boichook returned from Ukraine two days before the church service. During his visit to Ukraine, he confirmed that the aid they had been providing was being distributed to the right hands. He felt the weight of the importance of his task because when he returned home, he was able to report back to the donors and provide them with the news that their contributions were truly making a difference in the lives of Ukrainians.
There is not an abundance of Ukrainian churches in Florida, and for Boichook, St. Mary’s is a special place that he has been attending every Sunday since 1994. Since the war began, he has noticed many “new faces,” some refugees, and offers them assistance in a variety of ways.
“We’ve been helping them in many different ways financially or just giving them some knowledge and helping them find things they need…” Boichook said. “…A lot of them came here with young kids, and they come here for Bible school, they come here for their first communion and things like that…”
Boichook doesn’t look at the war as simply between Ukraine and Russia. He said he sees Russia’s invasion as an assault on the Western way of life. His desire is for Ukraine’s transformation to a system of democracy to prevail.
“…Ukraine stands for democracy, a new democratic and open way of life where people can decide for themselves what they want to do with their life and how they want to do it,” Boichook said. “We have a totally different view of life… Russia.”