WASHINGTON, DC — For Lydia Korostelova, Russia’s brutal invasion of her native Ukraine has hit in ways she could never have imagined.
“People are leaving their homes, leaving everything behind,” she said of her hometown of Huliaipole in eastern Ukraine during an April 7 roundtable at the University American Catholic in Washington.
The town, 90 miles from the besieged city of Mariupol, saw its population drop from 13,000 to around 2,000 as people fled to safety, said the 23-year-old student at the Columbus School of Law in the university.
A recent New York Times article on Huliaipole quotes a 64-year-old refugee in a city hospital basement who said life there is now “like living in a horror movie”.
For Korostelova, who has received eyewitness accounts from family and friends in Ukraine, this horror is all too real.
“They (the Russians) are killing Ukrainian civilians every day,” said Korostelova, whose presentation included a series of photos of bombed houses, markets, roads and railways, and a centuries-old church. with its ruined steeple.
Korostelova showed off a photo she took of her family while she was home over Christmas vacation. “It’s the last one I have of this kind,” she said.
Then she talked about another horror from her home in Ukraine.
“My brother, he’s supposed to be 25 on April 17, but he won’t because he was killed on March 9,” she said, her voice cracking. “He was a very patriotic and dedicated young man.”
Korostelova noted how her father and brother remained in the city, helping out as much as they could, including bringing water to residents and participating in other relief and defense efforts.
In an emotional voice, she explained the death of her brother Yevhenii.
“He and his friends, who are also deceased, were driving a car outside my hometown to bring humanitarian aid to the people of the nearest village. It was a volunteer mission, they were never involved in military practices, it was just helping people survive and the road was mined,” she said.
Recalling her brother, whose name was Zhenya, she said, “He was very bright. He was getting his doctorate. in agriculture. He was published, he was traveling the world, doing great things.
Korostelova also described how residents hide from constant shelling and artillery fire.
“All the while, people are surviving however they can,” she said. Some residents did not survive, including a friend’s grandmother who went out for a breath of fresh air after hiding, then was killed when a bomb fell in her garden.
“Some people don’t have the ability to bury loved ones, so they have to bury them in their gardens or backyards,” Korostelova said, adding that in villages near her hometown, young people women were reportedly kidnapped and raped by Russian troops.
Other panelists linked war and people’s suffering to Lent, a time of repentance and coming closer to God.
“We are here in Lent, approaching Holy Week, so we are really in this moment between suffering and hope, and this is where we are in the war in Ukraine as well as in our response to it. ci,” said panelist Maryann Cusimano Love, associate professor of international relations at Catholic University, who spoke via an online connection.
Noted for her work with the Pentagon, the State Department and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cusimano Love has identified several myths related to peacebuilding, including that it is something that only begins after a war and that it is only the province of governments.
Peacebuilding, she said, must begin during war with actions that promote participation, restoration, good relations, reconciliation and sustainability.
“We all have a role to play. We all have things we can do that will help set the table to build a more lasting and just peace for Ukraine,” she said.
In his speech, Father Peter Galadza, a Ukrainian Catholic priest from Canada who is a visiting professor of liturgy at the university, noted several ironies related to the Russian invasion.
“In 1994, the Ukrainians voluntarily renounced all their nuclear arsenal, and the Russian government at the time signed a document pledging to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” he said.
Twenty years later, in 2014, Russia occupied and annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea and began providing military assistance to Russian separatists fighting in Ukraine’s Donbass region. Then Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Galadza said that while “Ukraine has proven to be a model of cultural and ethnic pluralism”, Putin presented the invasion as an effort to “protect” ethnic Russians in Ukraine and the war received support from the leader of Russian Orthodoxy. Church.
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill has expressed hope for a peaceful resolution, but he is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has supported Russia’s actions. More than 280 Russian Orthodox priests around the world recently signed an open letter condemning the attack on Ukraine.
Father Mark Morozowich, a Ukrainian Catholic priest who is dean of the university’s School of Theology and Religious Studies, pointed out that the invasion of Russia began long before February 24, saying that since 2014, more than 20,000 people died in the fighting in the Donbass.
He explained that although the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill supported the invasion and presented it as “saving people from the evils of the West”, Russia has one of the highest abortion rates in the world , has no freedom of expression and has arrested thousands of citizens. protest against the war.
“It’s really an ideological war being waged against a way of life,” he said, agreeing with Galadza that Ukraine not only values its freedom, but has been a country where people of different cultures, religions and of different ethnicities lived together.
“This idea of exchange, of freedom, is what Putin is fighting against. … It’s about domination,” he said.
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Zimmermann is editor of the Catholic Standard, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Washington.