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Ukrainians mourn together at St Mary’s after two years of gruelling war

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Women wearing embroidered Ukrainian shirts and flower crowns outside St Mary’s Cathedral. Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2023

Mariia Kurenkova arrived in Australia on 28 March 2022, one month after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.

She had been living in Kyiv for five years and remembers the horrifying day when the conflict erupted.

As Russian troops crossed the border and bombs began to fall, she applied for her visa to Australia and had it approved in less than a day.

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“We tried desperately to move to neighbouring villages, but it wasn’t safe,” Mariia said.

“I came [to Australia] alone, without knowing anyone here when I arrived. I just wanted to be as far away from war as humanly possible.”

The 26-year-old has lost count of the friends she has lost in the war, and while her father and other family members continue to fight on the frontline, in these trying times she has turned to her faith.

“The church was the first place I came when I arrived in Australia,” Mariia said.

“You can always ask God for help, and he is helping us immensely as we continue to survive through this.”

Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox clergy led prayers outside St Mary’s Cathedral. Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2023

Alongside her in the St Mary’s Cathedral forecourt on Saturday, to mark the two-year anniversary of the start of the war, 1500 Ukrainians rallied together in solidarity.

Supporters draped in blue and yellow Ukrainian flags, and wearing traditional embroidered vyshyvanka shirts, gathered in a public display at 2pm at Sydney’s mother church.

They came to show their resilience, and to share each others’ pain after two years of gruelling war.

Prayers were offered by clergy of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic and Ukrainian Orthodox churches.

The display was one of over 400 global rallies—including in other major cities in Australia—in a coordinated initiative to show support for Ukraine.

Vice-president of the Ukrainian Council of NSW Andrew Mencinsky told The Catholic Weekly that in two years of war Ukraine has lost a generation of its best citizens.

“Even closer to home, many people [in Australia] have lost family members,” Andrew said.

“One mother in our community received news her son was displaced. She went back to Ukraine to look for him for three months, and eventually DNA samples confirmed the worst.”

A young woman waves the Ukrainian flag in the St Mary’s Cathedral forecourt. Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2023

Caritas Australia reported in a statement marking the second anniversary of the invasion that to date 6.3 million people have been displaced overseas as a result of the war, with a further 3.7 million displaced inside Ukraine.

In two years, there have been 29,731 civilian casualties, which includes more than 10,000 deaths.

The crowd prayed for peace and pleaded for increased financial and military aid from the Australian government to put an end to the fighting.

“Without aid, Ukraine faces the risk of ceasing to exist,” Andrew warned.

Consular officials from European nations—including Polish, Lithuanian, German, Czech and Slovak representatives—joined the rally, along with a member of the Canadian consulate. Canada hosts a large and influential Ukrainian diaspora community.

The threat of imminent rain did little to deter the display of solidarity.

The crowd came to show solidarity and mourn after two years of gruelling conflict. Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2023

Keynote speaker and Labor member for the NSW State seat of Auburn (the historical home of the Ukrainian community in Australia) Linda Voltz urged the international community, particularly western nations, to continue supporting Ukraine.

“This is not merely an act of charity, but a testament to our collective commitment to justice, democracy and the preservation of a world order based on respect of international law and human rights,” she said.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, former prime minister Tony Abbott, NSW Premier Chris Minns and former UK prime minister Boris Johnson also sent video messages.

“Ukrainians are not just fighting for their homeland—they’re also defending the fundamental principles that underpin a stable, peaceful and prosperous world,” Albanese said.

“I know that what you in Ukraine are doing is fighting for the freedom of everyone, not just yourselves, so I salute you as you face another year of conflict,” Abbott added.

“I pray to God that right does prevail.”

Friends and family stayed behind in support of one another as formalities concluded, shedding tears and sharing together in their grief and hope for an end to this gruelling war.

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