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“I bring a message of peace to the people of this community,” Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA (UOC) Archbishop Daniel Volodymyr Zelinsky said after leading a special service at St. Anthony of the Desert, the mission parish of UOC in Las Cruces, Sept. 21, the International Day of Peace.
Archbishop Daniel, who has visited Las Cruces more than a dozen times, is a native of Ukraine (it was part of the Soviet Union when he was born there in September 1972), and his mother, stepfather and brother still live there.
UOC has raised more than $3 million in humanitarian aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion of that country in February 2022, the archbishop said. Some of that aid has gone to Ukrainian refugee camps in Poland, Romania and Germany, he said. Funds raised have also purchased 170 ambulances for Ukraine, along with more than a dozen refrigerated minivans used as morgues.
While teaching at UOC headquarters in New Jersey, the archbishop said one of his students left the class to take a phone call from his home in Ukraine. The student learned that his brother, a soldier in the Ukrainian military, had suffered a spinal cord injury in battle. The soldier was airlifted to a hospital in Norway. The archbishop surprised his student by taking him to Norway to visit his injured brother.
“It was heartbreaking,” Archbishop Daniel said.
Estimates are that more than 7,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died in the war, he said, along with more than 70,000 civilians.
“Mothers and fathers have lost thousands of children on both sides,” the archbishop said.
Part of his concern about the war is that it will grow into an openly international conflict, he said.
“The Cold War never ended. It just took a different shape,” the archbishop said. “If Ukraine fails, who knows what may happen to the rest of the world.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made religion a part of his message to Russian soldiers, Archbishop Daniel said, telling them they will go to heaven for killing Ukrainian soldiers, as the Russian leader tries to justify the invasion of a sovereign nation that has a right to exist as an independent state.
But even as the war continues, it is important to “pray for our enemies,” the archbishop said. “I pray for Putin.”
His prayer is that Putin will recognize the loss of innocent lives he is inflicting on Ukraine and end the war. He is also hopeful the people of Russia will “see the evil (their) government is doing,” the archbishop said.
“We will win this war,” he said. “The Russians will see the suffering and they will say ‘no more.’”
Archbishop Daniel is also hopeful the international community will force Putin to participate in peace talks and end the war.
To donate to UOC and its support for Ukraine, visit uocofusa.org and click on “Donate to Humanitarian Aid” in the blue box at the top of the page.