Following the example of Ukraine’s interfaith community, faith leaders in Milwaukee joined together on March 20 to show their solidarity and support for the people of Ukraine as they defend their independent nation and democracy from unprovoked Russian attacks.
The faith traditions represented at the downtown Milwaukee rally all shared a common commitment to peace. For almost a month the religious leaders, along with the world, have watched the brutal Russian invasion of the free people of Ukraine in shock and horror.
The images and video have shown in real time the unending massacres committed by troops loyal to the Russian dictator. Ukraine’s civilian population has been targeting, with whole families and specifically women and children, killed by attacks on schools and other public shelters.
Milwaukee’s Ukrainian American community has been vocal since the beginning of the invasion on February 24, asking for political, economic, and military support to save their homeland.
“We all are devastated by the situation in Ukraine, and most of us have family and friends over there,” said Halyna Salapata of Wisconsin Ukrainians, Inc. “We are praying every minute, or crying every day. Many of us are afraid to watch the news. Our hearts are broken over all of this. Ukraine is experiencing the biggest land invasion in Europe since World War II. People are dying. Children are dying. Cities are being destroyed and wiped off the map. Ukrainians are having to fight for every inch of the way to survive in this unfair war. I feel like I’m having a nightmare and I can’t wake up from it.”
The United States fought a devastating war in Vietnam during the height of the Cold War, in an effort to stop the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia. It was a proxy fight against the Soviet Union. Now the United States is being called on to send aid to help save a European democracy. As a member of NATO, should another member nation like Poland become the next target of Putin’s mad desires, the United States would immediately find itself in another World War.
“We have been hearing and seeing in the news, these powerful words and images and descriptions of the horrific violence that is going on. And the massive number of refugees, over 3 million already created by this senseless war of aggression,” said Bishop Paul Erickson of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. “We are already hard at work providing material aid to all who are impacted. But we cannot do this alone. We work with partners across all lines of faith and politics and religion, because we have learned that we need each other. We need to stand with our Ukrainian siblings. I don’t speak Ukrainian, but my heart is with you. Because we must stand together or we will die alone.”
The Faith leaders and community organizers said that Milwaukee residents must join together to defeat hate and inhumanity. They pledged that until Russian forces were pushed out of Irpin, Milwaukee’s sister city, and until Russia ended their unjust war and pulled its forces out of all of Ukraine, they would stand together and fly the Ukrainian flag along the American flag.
“I am not ashamed to admit, I wept when I saw the bombed-out image of the theater in Mariupol, where families with their young children huddled in safety as the sirens screamed, and as the missiles began to rain down from above. They thought they were safe in this place. The community had dutifully written in giant white letters the word “children” in Russian on the parking lots surrounding the building, so that it could be clearly seen from above. So that their Russian attackers would know innocent young lives were being kept safe inside,” said Darryl Morin, National President of Forward Latino. “Next we saw the horrific images of the bombed out maternity hospital where parents were experiencing the pure joy of our Lord’s greatest gift, the gift of life. But for them it ended in pain and sorrow, as the life of their new born child was taken from them. Four weeks ago, these parents were planning for the next chapter in their family’s story, only to have their book slammed shut by the Russian army as it seeks to end the the Ukrainian story forever.”
On March 8, the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO) issued joint appeal for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Ukraine, to protect the civilian population from Russian autocracies. Comprised of Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim leaders from more than a dozen Ukraine’s churches and religious organization, the strongly worded statement was an example of community solidarity across all faiths in Ukraine.
Representatives of Odesa’s largest Christian churches, as well as the Chief Rabbi of Odesa, and Deputy Imam joined together on March 18 to give a powerful address in support of peace and against the war that Russia had unleashed on Ukraine. It was another example of interfaith relations in Ukraine, all united in condemnation of Putin’s acts of terror on their nation.
Other speakers at the “Rally To Support Ukraine” included Pastor Mykola Lymar of St. Mary Ukrainian Orthodox Church; Rev. Vasyl Savchyn of St. Michael Ukrainian Catholic Church; Solomiya Kavyuk of Wisconsin Ukrainians, Inc.; Kai Gardner Mishlove, Executive Director of Jewish Community Relations Council; Miryam Rosenzweig, President and CEO of Milwaukee Jewish Federation; Pardeep Kaleka, Executive Director of Milwaukee Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee; Ahmed Quereshi, Past President of Islamic Society of Milwaukee; and Clarence Nicholas, President of NAACP’s Milwaukee Branch.
The public was urged to contact their elected officials, and leave messages in support of the people and democracy of Ukraine. Some refugees have already arrived in Milwaukee, and Wisconsin will need to provide care for Ukrainian families escaping from the slaughter in their neighborhoods.