By Tom Travis
On a cold wintry Thursday night more than 100 people squeezed into the tiny St. Vladmir’s Ukrainian church on West Pasadena Avenue, just outside of the City of Flint border. It was standing room only for a candlelight prayer vigil in support of Ukraine as Putin wages war against it.
The prayer vigil was organized by local Ukrainians and local government officials including, Nyk Bartkiw, Mary Martin, Congressman Dan Kildee and Genesee County Clerk John Gleason. Bartkiw is the chairman of a committee that calls itself “Peace for Ukraine.”
Prayers and songs for the ‘homeland’
As attendees entered the church they were handed stapled pages of a liturgy of prayer, prayer songs and the national anthem of Ukraine.
The pages contained English and Ukrainian language. One song in both Ukrainian and English titled Listen, O Lord to Our Prayers, included the words, “Listen, O Lord to our prayers, Grant these requests to our homeland. From you we seek strength and guidance, unity to live by your commands.”
The words to the Ukrainian National Anthem say,
“Ukraine’s freedom has not yet perished, not has her glory, upon us, fellow Ukrainians, fate shall smile once more.
“Our enemies will vanish like dew in the sun, and we too shall rule, in a free land of our own.
“We’ll lay down our souls and bodies to attain our freedom, and we’ll show that we, are of the Cossack nation. We’ll stand together for freedom.”
Efforts to collect funds and humanitarian supplies announced
Viktoria Setkiw, 27, of Warren, representing the Ukrainian National Woman’s League, Chapter 76, announced an effort to collect and air-lift humanitarian supplies to the Ukraine. Items are being collected at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren.
Items needed include medical supplies, clothing and personal supplies. Financial donations can be made in-person at the Ukrainian Cultural Center or online at the Ukrainian-American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan’s website (www.uacrisisresponse.org) or by calling (313)920-8245.
“Putin’s fear is that Ukraine will shine a light on his ruthless dictatorship” – Boris Potapenko
A keynote address delivered by a member of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America-Michigan Chapter, Boris Potapenko, spoke about the historical perspective to the Ukrainian battle for freedom. U.S. Representative Dan Kildee (MI-district 5) described legislation that would freeze and seize funds and property of the Russian government and Russian oligarchy. Kildee flew to Flint especially for the Thursday prayer vigil. Genesee County Clerk John Gleason spoke as well.
Potapenko, without looking at any notes, spoke to the crowd for more than ten minutes laying out key details of Ukrainian history and a description of deep-seated national pride and determination.
“During the decades of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, Ukrainian dissidents by the hundreds and thousands went into the Gulag, the concentration camps, because they could not remain silent. In 1991 the Soviet Union was no more and the Ukrainian played a huge role in the demise of the Soviet Union.
“The Ukrainians voted in a referendum whether to stay in Russia or to be independent, and over 90 per cent of the Ukrainian population said we want freedom, we want independence. We want to live in union with civilized, democratic, humane countries.”
“And for the last 30 years, Ukraine’s huge neighbor has done everything in its power to prevent Ukraine from consolidating its independence. The institutions of democracy and freedom that Ukraine began building in 1991 became too strong.
“Putin’s war against Ukraine isn’t about the weapons, it isn’t because he fears the might of Ukraine or even of its western friends. Putin’s greatest fear is that democracy in Ukraine will shine a light for all those souls in Russia where they are living under a ruthless dictatorship,” Potapenko said.
“Ukrainians will not be deterred. They will die. They will die by the thousands and millions because we will not give up.
“The question is will the West, our government, the allies of the U.S. step up? Or will it take 25,000 dead, or 50,000 dead or 100,000 dead before we find our political will in the West to stop Putin now?
“Putin’s message to Ukrainians is, ‘where’s the West? Where are your partners? Where are those western values that are so important to you? Come back home. We love you to death.
“In the United States human rights and democracy isn’t taken for granted. We see the turmoil in our society today and as unsavory as that is democracy works.
“We need that American spirit of liberty to permeate across the ocean and embrace the Ukrainian people.
“The U.S.’s victory in the Revolution in 1776 would not have been possible without France. Without the French help our revolution could not have succeeded. And 36 years later American independence was not a sure thing. It took the War of 1812, 36 years later, to put American on the map for sure.
“And so it comes to Ukraine. It declares it’s independence in 1991 and 30 years later it’s fighting its final battle for freedom and democracy and western values. And this is its decisive battle.
“We stand with Ukraine because we’re Americans. We stand with Ukraine because freedom matters. We stand with Ukraine because evil cannot be tolerated,” Potapenko concluded.
Kildee announces federal legislation to freeze and seize funds and property of Russian government and Russian oligarchy
Kildee announced that legislation is being developed in Congress to “not only freeze the assets of Vladmir Putin and the Russian government and the Russian oligarchs but to take them.” The crowd erupted in applause and cheers.
Kildee added, “To take them for one very important purpose, to rebuild Ukraine.” Kildee added that Ukraine will be rebuilt with “his money” [Putin’s]. “That’s the way to punish Putin,” again the crowd cheered.
In comments after the prayer vigil, Kildee said, “I’m certain that Ukraine will be free and I’m certain that Putin will be defeated. I’m worried what will happen between now and then.
“Our focus now is getting the Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian people the material they need. The stingers [missles], the javalins [a weapon system] and the weapons they need, small arms, the armor,” Kildee said.
When asked to describe Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he said, “incredible, a hero.”
“I’m moved and touched” – Nyk Bartkiw
Chairman of the committee that calls itself “Peace in the Ukraine,” said that the group aims to bring awareness and a prayer for what’s going on in Ukraine, according to Bartkiw. A retired clinical psychologist and university professor and former director of out patient services with Community Mental Services. Bartkiw explained he was born in Germany and came to the United States with his parents following World War II. Both his parents survived time in the concentration camps, he said.
Bartkiw said he was “very moved and touched” by the large turnout for the prayer vigil. “I thought we’d have about five or ten people. And it makes me a believer in the goodness of our American people.”
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.