“That happens.” Three words in a text message from a friend in London alerted Paul Gavrilyuk that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had begun.
From his home in St. Paul, Minnesota, he immediately called his brother in Lithuania, who agreed to have their elderly parents evacuate Kyiv. It took about 200 phone calls between them to convince their parents to flee.
It took their parents six days to drive across seven countries to Lithuania – a journey that would normally have taken an hour by air – due to the mass evacuation from Ukraine.
Born in kyiv, Gavrilyuk is a professor at Saint Thomas University in Saint Paul, where he holds the Aquinas Chair in Theology and Philosophy. He said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted him to act.
“February 24th in my own life marks a time when I had to put aside my studies, although I love the life of the spirit, and really focus on one question, namely, ‘What could I do effectively for peace and fight war by peaceful means? »
He found an answer by teaming up with prominent business leaders and academics, as well as people with “extraordinary organizational abilities,” to found the nonprofit organization Rebuild Ukraine.
And as a means of raising awareness and raising funds, Gavrilyuk turned to an iconography project with the mission of exposing the tragedy of the ongoing war in Ukraine and raising funds for a voluntary mobile hospital.
The iconography project is the work of Oleksandr Klymenko and Sofia Atlantova, a Kyiv-based husband-and-wife team of iconographers. They have been painting icons on the lids of used ammunition boxes since 2014, when the war in Ukraine’s Donbass region against Russian-backed separatists began.
Their works of sacred art are known as “Ammunition Box Icons” and have toured 13 countries, 45 cities and 90 locations to date.
On March 31, Gavrilyuk presented the 91st Ammunition Box Icon Exhibit, co-sponsored by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, at the suburban Chicago Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen, Illinois.
During his presentation, Gavrilyuk explained how Klymenko was visiting the war-torn Donbass region, when he discovered that the wooden lid of an ammunition box looked like a wooden icon board.
“And that’s when the idea came to him that he could take an instrument of death and turn it into a symbol of light and transformation,” Gavrilyuk said.
“What was also important for Oleksandr is that every icon also bears the scars of war and to that extent also bears witness to that,” he said.
These “scars” include rusted hinges and nails, pockmarks, and broken and ragged edges.
“Just as human beings, who are created in the image and likeness of God, are scarred and dehumanized by war, these icons, which are images of God and saints on wooden panels, carry the memory war,” Gavrilyuk said.
While CNEWA’s fundraising focuses on humanitarian aid to displaced people and refugees, Rebuild Ukraine has focused its greatest efforts on providing tourniquets to Ukrainians on the front lines. About 2,200 were sent to Ukraine in March.
“Essentially, I now measure my life and my time in tourniquets,” Gavrilyuk said.
These devices are worn on each arm and applied to minimize intense bleeding from a wound sustained in battle. Their proper use can increase a casualty’s chances of survival sevenfold. The organization also provides medical supplies and emergency vehicles to Pirogov First Volunteer Mobile Hospital and prescription drugs to civilians who remained in besieged areas of Ukraine.
Gavrilyuk spoke of the vital work of the Church in Ukraine as a “highly trusted” and “strategically important” institution, pointing to the Catholic Church’s extensive, reliable and well-organized aid network, through which CNEWA sent over a million dollars. in aid since the start of the invasion.
In addition to this network, individual parish churches of all denominations provide Ukrainians with food, water and shelter.
Gavrilyuk stressed the importance of the Church’s commitment to celebrating the liturgy and the sacraments – “despite war and in the midst of war” – and the “enormous amount of spiritual care and support (and) of soul therapy” she provides.
Ukraine is home to the largest number of Eastern Catholics in the world – around 5 million – and Father Thomas J. Loya, pastor of the Annunciation, highlighted his church’s connection with Ukraine, where the Ruthenian Church, called Byzantine Catholic in the United States United States, was founded.
Christians in Ukraine “do the same thing we do here,” Fr. Loya said. “We pray very intensely, we seek forgiveness and we move towards charity…but they do it in the midst of this hatred, this violence, this murder, this war.”