'When one of us hurts, we all hurt': Metro Detroit faith leaders rally with Ukrainian Americans as war rages

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Detroit — Bogdan Boyko and his wife, Anna Boyko, were in Ukraine visiting family over the holidays in December, a short few months before Russia invaded the country.

The invasion still came as a shock to Boyko, he said, even though people have been  worried about this situation ever since Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

“I couldn't in my worst dreams imagine that this would be a reality,” Boyko, 31, of Warren told The Detroit News at a Sunday rally in solidarity with Ukraine at Hart Plaza.

Natalia Forrat, 41, of Canton, walks with her sign during a rally in support of Ukrainians at Hart Plaza,  March 27, 2022, in Detroit.

The sun shone on faith and community leaders and supporters who came to commemorate the passing of one month since Russia’s invasion of the country.

“It's very scary that it's happening in this day and age, and that it still happens in other parts of the world too,” said Boyko, who moved to the United States in 1996.

The couple both have direct family members and friends who live in their hometown, Lviv, in western Ukraine, and in central and eastern parts of the country as well.

They relay “horrible stories” about spending hours in bunkers, waiting for the bombing to stop. One friend saw an oil reserve explode into a cloud of smoke from the windows in his home.

Organized by the Ukrainian American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan, the rally brought together faith leaders from the state’s Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Christian communities as well as leaders from the Taiwanese and Polish communities.

“It has been a month since our defense against the attempt to destroy us, to wipe us off the map started,” said Anya Mishchanchuk, of the Ukrainian American Crisis Response Committee of Michigan. “Their initial plan collapsed in the first day of the invasion. … We have in our heart something that does not die: love, faith and hope.”

Serhii Patsula, 35, Okemos, listens to the speakers during the rallly at Hart Plaza to show support for Ukrainians.

Speakers addressed dozens of attendees, who braved the Sunday winds with Ukrainian and American flags and signs condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin and about the need to support Ukraine as the war enters its second month.

“It’s not just about raising millions of dollars to help refugees from Ukraine, but it's also about solidarity. The Jewish community stands in solidarity with Ukraine, with Ukrainians,” said Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Metro Detroit.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its 32nd day, has stalled in many areas. Its aim to quickly encircle the capital, Kyiv, and force its surrender has faltered against staunch Ukrainian resistance – bolstered by weapons from the U.S. and other Western allies.

A small crowd came out for the rally at Hart Plaza to show support for Ukrainians. March 27, 2022, Detroit, MI(Clarence Tabb Jr./The Detroit News)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused the West of cowardice as his country fights to stave off Russia’s invading troops, the Associated Press reported, making an exasperated plea for fighter jets and tanks to sustain a defense as the war ground into a battle of attrition.

“This war is not a natural disaster. It's man-made by a sick person, and it can be avoided,” said Wen-Lang Tsai, Midwest regional director of the Taiwanese Association of America at the rally, adding that his organization was also in the process of raising funds to send to Ukraine.

Laura Kelsey, pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Pontiac, said she was grateful for those in Ukraine who have "stood up for freedom." 

“One of my favorite things about being a person of faith is that when one of us hurts, we all hurt,” said Kelsey. “When the people of Ukraine are being shot and bombs are coming down and their lives are being affected, I hurt, the United States hurts.”

Oleh Zabiyaka, 50, of Macomb, listens to the speakers during the rally at Hart Plaza in support of Ukrainians.

A rally at Hart Plaza to show support for Ukrainians. March 27, 2022, Detroit, MI. (Clarence Tabb Jr./The Detroit News)

Before the rally started, Olga Hnat, 53, of Troy, said she became confident that the donations being sent to Ukraine were benefiting people who really needed them after her brother, who lives in the country, told her he could see charities were receiving packages and funds from Detroit organizations. 

Still, she cautions vigilance for people who want to make donations to unknown sources online.

Hnat, who moved to the U.S. 26 years ago, said she participates in cookouts and other measures to get help to Ukraine. When she speaks to her brother on the phone, she often hears bomb sirens in the background, right before he brother tells her he needs to hang up to find shelter. 

"How can we get to the point to allow one country to terrorize the whole world," asked Hnat. "Our heart is bleeding, that's the minimum we can do besides financial help."

In addition to community fundraising, the crisis committee is assembling and shipping field medical kits to save Ukrainian lives via an Amazon wishlist, as part of its continuing efforts to send humanitarian, medical and tactical aid.

Donations should be addressed to the following address: 

“Supplies for Ukraine”

Standard Trucking LLC

13400 Girardin St

Hamtramck, MI 48212

Community members have also set up a website, dety.org, which helps locate people who have gone missing in Ukraine since the war started.