‘Please join us in storming heaven for peace in Ukraine.’
That’s the urgent message to believers from parish priest of St Andrew’s Ukraine Catholic Church in Lidcombe.
Fr Simon Ckuj said the community was praying and fasting “to change the hearts of those who think they can achieve something by war”.
As The Catholic Weekly went to press on Tuesday this week, Russian troops described as ‘peacekeepers’ by Russian President Vladimir Putin entered eastern Ukraine after Russia recognised what it described as the ‘independence’ of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions collectively known as Donbas.
In the early hours of 24 February, President Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine after a live televised speech saying he had authorised a military operation in that region.
Concerned for the welfare of their mother nation as well as friends and relatives living there, Sydney’s Ukrainian Catholics came together last weekend to pray for a miracle, supported by politicians and other community leaders.
“Ukrainians have good reason to fear invasions, especially from Russia which, under Communist dictator Joseph Stalin presided over a deliberate man-made famine which caused millions of Ukrainians to starve to death throughout the winters of 1932 and 1933.”
More than 500 people gathered in Lidcombe last Sunday for a rally attended by civic and community leaders including Immigration Minister Alex Hawke and Federal Labor MP Jason Clare, State MP for Auburn Lynda Jane and consular officials from several communities.
Their prayer vigil and rally afterwards attracted significant media coverage.
Ukrainians have had good reason to fear invasions, especially from Russia which, under Communist dictator Joseph Stalin presided over a deliberate man-made famine which caused millions of Ukrainians to starve to death throughout the winters of 1932 and 1933.
Just six years later, Nazi Germany invaded Ukraine as it attempted to defeat the Soviet Union, visiting widespread atrocities on the Ukrainian people as ‘racially inferior’ Slavs.
Similar rallies were held around the country and the world in solidarity with one which drew thousands in the Ukraine capital of Kyiv calling for an end to Russian aggression over Ukraine.
The event in Sydney was organised by the Ukrainian Council of NSW and took place on the eighth anniversary of the death of what is referred to as the ‘Heavenly Hundred’, more than 100 Ukrainians who were killed in a mass shooting of protestors in the Revolution of Dignity in the capital, Kyiv, in 2013.
Following the rally a memorial service was held in the church in honour of all who died on that day and in the defence of Ukraine in the years since. It was led by Fr Ckuj and his assistant priest Fr Justin McDonnell with Fr Michael Smolenec of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Mr Hawke said it was a “trying time” for the Ukrainian community in Australia and abroad and expressed his gratitude for the memorial service and the role of the church in fighting state-sponsored persecution and discrimination over many years.
“The Morrison Government and all of Australia stands in solidarity with Ukraine and its people in the face of Russian threats and coercion,” he said on social media following the service.
“It was calling on the Australian Government to continue to stand firm in condemning Russia’s actions related to Ukraine.”
Mr Clare told the crowd that President Putin “must understand that it is not in the interest of the Russian people to continue down this path”.
In a statement last week the council said it was calling on the Australian Government to continue to stand firm in condemning Russia’s actions related to Ukraine, provide military support for the country and support in fighting cyber attacks, and apply meaningful sanctions against Russia.
It said Ukraine has been at war with Russia since 2014, resulting in over 14,000 deaths and more than 1.5 million internally displaced people.
“This is a war which was started by Putin, commencing with the illegal annexation of Crimea and continues with the ongoing combat in eastern Ukraine… This increasing Russian aggression not only has implications for Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), but also for Australia and the Asia Pacific region,” the council said.
Pope Francis has called on people to pray and fast for peace in Ukraine on Ash Wednesday, which will take place this year on 2 March.