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March 9 - 22, 2014

Local Ukrainian Catholics praying for their homeland Prayers and support for those in Ukraine are the focus here

By Michelle Martin

Staff Writer

Marta Borodayko lights a candle following the prayer service. The cathedral has been holding special prayers for the people in Ukraine every day following Divine Liturgy, and prayer services, including Divine Liturgy, on Tuesday evenings since Feb. 18, the day clashes took place between the then-Ukrainian president, Victor Yanukovych, and protestors on the Maidan, Kyiv's main plaza.
(Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Father Bohdan Nalysnyk, rector at St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in Chicago, distributes communion during a prayer service to pray for people in the Ukraine on Feb. 25.
(Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

As the situation in Ukraine moved from popular demonstrations to a possible Russian invasion in the space of two weeks, Ukrainian Catholics in the Chicago area kept their eyes glued to Internet news sources and prayed.

“We pretty much have one of the computers going all day long, with email from contacts we have in Ukraine and the news sites there,” said Phyllis Muryn Zaparaniuk, business manager at St. Nicholas Cathedral, the cathedral of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of St. Nicholas, 2238 W. Rice St.

Zaparaniuk said the cathedral has been holding special prayers for the people in Ukraine every day following Divine Liturgy, and prayer services including Divine Liturgy on Tuesday evenings since Feb. 18, the day clashes between the then-Ukrainian president, Victor Yanukovych, and protestors on the Maidan, Kyiv’s main plaza, turned violent. Similar prayer services have been scheduled at the other five Ukrainian Catholic churches in the archdiocese.

By the end of Feb. 20, government snipers had killed an estimated 100 protestors.

“I just watched on the news a woman who was just walking down the street gunned down. For what purpose?” Zaparaniuk said, in tears in a telephone interview Feb. 20.

People also are contributing money to help those injured in the protests and to help support the families of people who were killed.

Ukrainian Catholic Church

The Ukrainian Catholic Church dates to the Council of Brest in 1595, when seven Ukrainian bishops, who had been part of the Orthodox rite, decided to reestablish communion with Rome, after receiving a guarantee that they could maintain their Byzantine traditions and Divine Liturgy. It is now the largest of the eastern rite Catholic churches, with about 5 million faithful.

The Eparchy of St. Nicholas covers Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, as well as all of the states west of the Mississippi River. There are about 46 parishes and mission stations.

For more information, visit

By Feb. 21, Yanukovych had signed a compromise deal with political opposition leaders, calling for early elections and rolling back changes he had made to the constitution that had limited the parliament’s authority. A day after that, Feb. 22, he was nowhere to be found in the Ukrainian capital, although he appeared on television asserting that he was still the president.

But within the next two days, the parliament named speaker Olexander Turchynov as interim president, and a warrant was issued for Yanukovych’s arrest.

At the same time, there were counter-demonstrations in Crimea, a heavily Russian region in the southeast part of Ukraine and home to the Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet. By Feb. 28, gunmen in military uniforms without insignia took control of Crimea’s main airports, and on March 1, the Russian Parliament voted to give President Vladimir Putin the authority to initiate military intervention in Ukraine in order to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers in Ukraine, Yanukovych declares — from Russia — that he is still president of Ukraine, pro-Russian rallies are reported in several Ukrainian cities. Leaders from the United States and Europe denounced Russia’s actions.

The conflict has its roots in the long, complicated history between Ukraine and Russia, which includes centuries of Russian domination, especially of the eastern part of the country. Going back to Catherine the Great, Russia’s rulers tried to supplant the Ukrainian population with Russians, and Russian is more widely spoken there than Ukrainian, while the western half of the country is more oriented toward Europe.

The protests that lit the powder keg started in November with the belief of the protestors that Yanukovych reneged on a promise to sign an agreement for more cooperation with the European Union, instead accepting a large aid package from Russia.

By the time the protests ended in February, “they set snipers on innocent people,” Zaparaniuk said.

“You just can’t keep up with it,” said Father John Lucas, attending priest at St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Parish, 12205 S. Parnell Ave. “Everybody’s concerned because most everyone has relatives there. All the church leaders there are just asking for peace. The people are upset. They’ve had it with the communists. They’ve had it with the czars. They’ve had it with everybody else.”

Ukrainian Catholics are members of an Eastern rite church in communion with the Vatican; other religious traditions in Ukraine include Orthodox Christians, who fall under three different patriarchates, including some who are members of the Moscow patriarchate; Muslims; and members of other Christian churches and no churches at all. Ukraine is the home of the only Catholic university in the former Soviet Union.

On March 1, Ukrainian Catholic Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk, said in a televised statement, “With regret, we can say that Ukraine, unfortunately, has been pulled into a military conflict. So far no one is shooting, so far people are not dying, but it is obvious that military intervention has already begun. And so, indeed, the entire world community is on the side of Ukraine, as Russia is the aggressor.

“The role of the church is consistent. During the last three months, the church, especially the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, was with its people. And it will continue to remain with its people. If, God forbid, we will have to stand together on the battlefield with our soldiers, with our army, the Ukrainian Church, especially the UGCC, is ready to provide pastoral support.”

Zaparaniuk is among about 50,000 Ukrainian Americans in Chicago, with the center of population in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood that surrounds St. Nicholas Cathedral. She was born in the United States, but has friends and family in Ukraine and has traveled there several times, including once in 1985 when the country was still under Soviet rule.

“When I looked over the years at how people lived, what they had to go through, I was very grateful that my grandmother’s family sent her here,” said Zaparaniuk, who also spent a summer working in Ukraine after the fall of the Soviet Union. “I saw the people, their desire to live their lives, make their mistakes and grow from them. They had the desire to make something of themselves. It was like watching a speeded up version of a seed growing and blossoming.”

That includes the blossoming of the Catholic faith, which burst forth after years of persecution. George Matwyshyn, who attended the Feb. 25 prayer service at St. Nicholas Cathedral, also has been watching events closely and supported the goals of the protestors, whom, he said, originally included many pro- Russian Ukrainians incensed by the corruption of Yanukovych’s administration.

“It was a case of either change or die,” he said. “The people in the administration were stealing so much money.”

Matwyshyn said that perhaps Putin and Yanukovych underestimated the Ukrainian people, especially the young people.

“They are well-educated and they have had a taste of what good government is,” he said. “These were people hoping to build a better life, a life where they were respected.

Chicago-area Ukrainian Catholics are quick to praise the religious leaders who tried to calm people during the protests.

“The priests were there,” Matwyshyn said. “The rabbis were there. The Muslim leaders were there. The evangelical ministers were there.”