PHILADELPHIA OSV News – Ukrainian Catholics in the U.S. observed Ukraine's Independence Day with a mix of solemn joy and hopeful prayer.
Ukrainians around the world observed the Aug. 24 holiday – which marks the day in 1991 when Ukraine declared independence from the former Soviet Union – with rallies, religious services and cultural events.
This year's Independence Day took place amid the ninth year of Russian aggression, begun in 2014, and the second year of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
A girl in traditional Ukrainian attire bows her head during an Aug. 24, 2023, ceremony for Ukraine's Independence Day, which took place at City Hall in Philadelphia. OSV News/Gina Christian
"May the people of Ukraine have the strength to make it to the end. And may the Lord help all those who help," said Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak, head of Ukrainian Catholics in the U.S., in a message released Aug. 23.
"Our soldiers are on the front line. They hold the battle and they keep Ukraine existing," Father Roman Pitula, rector of the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Philadelphia, told OSV News.
Father Pitula joined hundreds at Philadelphia's City Hall for an Aug. 24 flag-raising ceremony at which Ukrainian combat-wounded veterans were honored.
The gathering – which featured municipal and state officials, as well as a number of Ukrainian American religious and community leaders – coincided with "the one year and six month point since (Ukraine's) independence has been once again assaulted by Vladimir Putin's Russia," said emcee Jonathan Peri, president of Manor College in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.
The school, founded by Ukrainian women religious from the Order of St. Basil the Great, has throughout its history been a hub for Ukrainian studies, advocacy and support.
In his opening remarks, Peri highlighted the devastating impact of Russia's unprovoked attacks on Ukraine, which were launched in 2014 with the attempted illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and the fomenting of separatist activities in Ukraine's Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
"Ukraine's morally justified defense sits against Putin's premeditated, malicious evil," said Peri. "He has abducted children, leveled cities with thousands of innocent civilians deliberately targeted and killed, and unspeakable war crimes and depraved atrocities committed by Russian soldiers throughout the country that will scar humanity forevermore."
Since launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has killed more than 9,440 Ukrainian civilians and injured nearly 17,000, while committing close to 104,400 documented war crimes, according to Ukraine's government.
Currently, there are an estimated 5.1 million individuals internally displaced within Ukraine, according to the International Organization for Migration, part of the United Nations network. More than 6.2 million Ukrainians have sought safety abroad since the start of the full-scale invasion.
Russia's war has resulted in profound environmental damage to Ukraine due to air, soil and water contamination from munitions and from the destruction of the Kakhovka dam.
In a July 2023 joint report, New Lines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights reiterated their May 2022 conclusion that Russia has violated the 1948 Genocide Convention through its atrocities in Ukraine.
Father Volodymyr Radko, a Ukrainian Catholic priest who serves in the Archeparchy of Philadelphia, told OSV News the war has prompted him to reflect more deeply on key passages from Scripture.
third chapter of (Ecclesiastes) says, 'There is a time for everything,'" Father Radko, who attended the Philadelphia ceremony, told OSV News. "And in valuing our freedom and independence, there are times to love and to enjoy, but there is a time to fight for it. ... That's very powerful, and that sustains me."
In chapters 14-17 of John's Gospel, known as the Last Supper discourses, Jesus speaks of "living (during) persecution and suffering," warning that "you will suffer in the world, but take courage, for Christ has conquered the world," said Father Radko.
Ukrainians are battling against Russia's "long history" of aggression "not because they love war, not because of profit, but to protect the life of our family, our children, our elderly," he said.
A young girl in traditional Ukrainian attire holds a flag during a ceremony honoring Ukraine's Independence Day at City Hall in Philadelphia Aug. 24, 2023. OSV News/Gina Christian
lga Mykhaylyuk, a member of the Ukrainian National Women's League of America, told OSV News after the Aug. 24 Philadelphia ceremony that along with organizing shipments of humanitarian aid, she has joined in a weekly rosary for Ukraine, which is hosted at the monastery of the Sisters of St. Basil the Great adjacent to Manor College.
Eugene Luciw, president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America's Philadelphia chapter and a member of Presentation of Our Lord Ukrainian Catholic Church in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, told OSV News he draws strength from the popular Ukrainian hymn "Bozhe velykyi, yedynyi (Lord, great and almighty, protect Ukraine)" by Mykola Lysenko.
"I like its closing, which speaks of wisdom, so that (Ukraine) may survive for many happy years," said Luciw. "That's a song that prays for what's going on now, but there's always that note of optimism. That's one of my favorite prayers."
There is good reason for optimism and for hope, said Nicholas Rudnytzky, professor of Ukrainian history and dean of academic services at Manor College.
"To boldly stand against oppression is worth celebrating. To do so with the help of other democracies who openly support … the ideal of democratic principles, freedom and liberties is worth jubilation," he told OSV News. Ukraine's survival to date, he said, "gives pride and hope that there will be many more Independence Days for Ukraine to celebrate in the years to come."
Gina Christian is a national reporter for OSV News. Follow her on X at @GinaJesseReina.