St. Mary’s Church held a service to mark one year since Russia invaded Ukraine. It was an evening for Henley’s Ukrainian community to share their sadness, as well as their hopes for the future and a chance for everyone to stand side by side in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.
Father Jeremy Tayler opened the service with a welcome prayer and acknowledged it was a difficult day for Ukraine. Despite a large gathering, St. Mary’s was quiet, the mood was respectful and sombre. Following a song by the choir, God is Our Hope and Strength, Dr Krish Kandiah interviewed two Ukrainian guests. First, Nadia Borsuk, from Kiev, described what she is praying for and, in an emotional address, she said she prays to live in harmony. Nadia also said, “I’m asking you for prayers for people from Russia. I thinking a lot about this. I’m trying to believe and this is hard for me that God will transform their hearts and get them towards a path of peace and compassion.” Nadia came to Henley at the start of the conflict and expressed her gratitude for all the support and assistance she has received.
Dr. Krish Kandiah added, “There is a lot of support in this room.’ He asked the congregation to pray with Nadia. Anna Gracheva from Lviv was next to speak to Dr. Krish and she prayed for the reuniting of Ukrainian families. She said, “It is hard to know your family or the person you love is in captivity.” Anna described her own personal story, explaining she was shocked when the war started, but she didn’t immediately decide to go to Henley because it was initially calmer in her region. However, the fear of missiles eventually forced her to leave because she has a daughter and wanted her to be safe. She travelled, with her daughter, by bus to Hungary, and tearfully described how, once they had crossed the border en route to Budapest to fly to the UK, her young daughter saw a plane in the sky and started screaming, “missile.”
Anna and her daughter are being hosted by a local Henley family and Dr. Krish asked all those present who are hosting Ukrainians to put their hands up. A large show of hands stretched into the air and the church was silent, before a round of applause.
Anna said, “My hopes and dreams are for the war to stop and for Ukraine to be happy and calm.” She added that she hopes to meet her husband again. Anna continued, “I want to thank the beautiful English community, I can’t explain how grateful we are.”
A Bible reading about a future where there will be peace was read by Sara Kandiah and then everyone was invited to light a candle for peace in Ukraine. Dr. Krish said, “each candle lit is a prayer of hope for peace. Shine in darkness. Stand in solidarity for the people of Ukraine, even if you wouldn’t normally pray.” As a large and patient queue formed down the centre of the church, the choir sang, Nunc Dimittis. It was a poignant moment, watching young and old, different nationalities, all coming together in support for Ukraine and in the darkened church the sight of so many glowing candles was extremely moving.
Dr. Krish addressed the congregation with the support of Maria Moniatovska, who translated his talk into Ukrainian. He began by saying, “At 4am on 24th February 2022 many people across Ukraine were woken by sirens, some woken by the sound of bombs and missiles. It seems everybody in the whole world was surprised.” And yet, he went on to describe both the horror and beauty in war. He said, “it has unlocked something both terrible and beautiful, this war. War shows us the worst side of human nature, the idea that someone could deliberately target apartment buildings, hospitals, civilians is terrible. But this war has also shown us something beautiful about human nature. Countries like Poland, Romania and Moldova, have opened their borders to welcome Ukrainians and many millions have gone to live there.”
With a congregation largely made up of Ukrainians and those who are hosting them, Dr. Krish explained how the UK has also played its part. He said, “We have made history in Great Britain. We have welcomed over 150,000 people from Ukraine to live amongst us over the last 11 months. Most of us here didn’t know anyone from Ukraine a year ago but this war has built a bridge between our community and Ukraine.” He, himself hosting a Ukrainian family, joked, “I didn’t know cabbage soup could taste so good.” It was good to hear laughter ripple through the church. He ended the address on a more serious note as he said we all want peace and that was evident simply through the lighting of the candles.
Eva-Maria Pavliuk played a violin piece called, Secret Garden. She explained afterwards, “I played a sad song because all the things happening in Ukraine right now are so terrible.” This was followed by a song, Kalyna -Malyna, sung by Valeria Mocharska-Liulchyk, who said it was about love and war and reminded her of home.
In a closing address, Dr. Krish, said, “Don’t give up. This could be a long conflict. We hope for the best but must plan for the worst.” He added that we must pray our love does not grow cold.
There was an appeal for donations at the end to support Councillor Dave Eggleton to collect medical supplies which are going to be driven by a lorry to Ukraine. Following a final blessing from Father Jeremy people were invited to stay for tea and cakes.
On a sad day for Ukraine, and the world, St. Mary’s offered hope and support to all in the local community. It was a beautiful service, often moving, but full of love, support and hope.