In the News
Crosscut: Kirkland vigil marks one year of war in Ukraine
Maleeha Syed, Crosscut
Washington, D.C., March 2, 2023
On the first anniversary of Russia's invasion, dozens gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church to honor the lives lost.
Dozens gathered at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kirkland on Friday evening, praying and paying homage on the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Tend the sick, holy God,” Michael Ryan, a rector at the church, said while standing behind a podium draped with the blue and yellow Ukrainian flag. “Give rest to the weary. Bless the dying. Soothe the suffering.”
The vigil was part of an event, “From Kirkland to Kyiv, in Solidarity and Support,” which also included a panel discussion featuring three people involved in war relief efforts. U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, who represents Washington’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Kirkland, offered opening remarks.
“This week really has kind of highlighted how long this war has been going on and the impact it’s had on people,” she said. “Many in the West, and definitely in Russia, thought that Ukraine would fall in a few days. And here we are – the Ukrainian people have defied all odds.”
The event marked a grim anniversary: Since Feb. 24, 2022, Russia’s invasion has left cities destroyed and many dead. Millions have been displaced, including around 16,000 Ukrainians now living in Washington. People involved with organizations like iMiracleProject, a nonprofit helping people affected by the invasion, want to give people insight into a war that seems far from over.
The conflict awoke something in Tom Scearce, a board member at iMiracleProject, which collaborated with the church on the event. Scearce, who said he was bullied in childhood, considered Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a form of bullying on an international level.
For him, Friday was a sobering day – one dedicated to remembering those who have been harmed by the war – but also a day to inform.
“They need our undying, unconditional, unwavering support to get them through this crisis,” he said. “If we don’t support them, it’s not just Ukraine that suffers. It’s us.”
St. John’s promised to match up to $15,000 in donations given at the event Friday and at a follow-up March 4 fundraising dinner. Ryan, the church rector, moderated the panel, which included Ben Sterciuc, founder of Vital Solutions.
In the early stages of the war, Vital Solutions, a nonprofit offering support to Ukrainian refugees, helped people who had been forced to leave their homes access shelter, food and medical care.
As the conflict continued, Sterciuc said his organization pivoted to helping those still in Ukraine, including older people and those with disabilities who were unable to flee. His organization developed partnerships on the ground to help with this relief.
In 2022, Sterciuc said, this work reached more than a million people.
“It’s been incredibly, well, in a way shocking for us,” he said in an interview with Crosscut. “Because, you know, we’re not a large organization.”
Sterciuc’s co-panelists included Greg Hope, director of the Diocese of Olympia’s Refugee Resettlement Office, and Rick Steckler, a board member at iMiracleProject.
Valeriy Goloborodko, Honorary Consul of Ukraine for Washington and Oregon, addressed the crowd before the panel began, describing years of strife endured by his people.
“We were oppressed by Russia, we were oppressed by the Communist regime, we were oppressed by [the] Soviet regime,” he said. “They were trying to break our spirit. They were trying to put us on our knees.”
Tension between the nations has been brewing for years. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, a region that critics of the Kremlin still consider Ukrainian territory. Russian President Vladimir Putin has described the invasion of Ukraine last year as a special military operation to demilitarize and denazify the country.
Goloborodko emphasized the need for money and weapons from the United States. The U.S. agreed to train Ukrainian forces and to send military equipment, including tanks, rocket launchers and combat vehicles to help with the war effort.
Steckler with the iMiracleProject echoed Goloborodko’s call for funding during the panel. He pointed out that volunteers are limited in what they can do and emphasized the significant role money can play, whether donations or grants. Hope of the Refugee Resettlement Office also highlighted a need for decent, safe and affordable housing for large families.
Sterciuc of Vital Solutions has noticed a level of compassion fatigue set in.
“The interest [in the war] in all of us kind of diminished,” he said during the panel. “Because we’ve got to pay our own bills.”
The compassion and outcry for those impacted by the war may have diminished since last year, but Emily Besaw, a parishioner at St. John’s who helped kickstart the church’s relationship with iMiracleProject, was encouraged to see people show up to Friday’s event. She didn’t expect the war to go on for as long as it has.“I’m just trying to, I think, immerse myself a lot more in the fact that this might not be happening in my backyard,” Besaw said in an interview with Crosscut. “But, like, it is still happening.”
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