A Ukrainian priest serving the Charlotte area said the outpouring of support from North Carolinians for the people of Ukraine has been amazing, but he doesn’t see a quick or good end to the war with Russia.
“Vladimir Putin wants Ukraine for economic purposes, world power, logistics,” said Father Michael Kulick, priest and administrator at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Mission Parish in Charlotte.
“What’s happening now is that he is trying to bring the country to its knees, to total surrender so he can have total control. That’s just flat-out wrong. I think people see that huge injustice and evil taking place and they feel compelled to respond in some way with a donation, housing refugees in their own homes, etc.”
North Carolina has a growing Ukrainian population. People are moving to areas like Charlotte, which has seen Ukrainian people from California, Connecticut, New York, and Illinois come to raise their families.
“The Ukrainian people love Charlotte,” said Kulick, who travels from Cleveland once a month for services. The mission is in its sixth year, and there is a second is in the city of St. Basil’s.
Kulick said people’s moral imperative to do the right thing and show support comes during a crisis.
“When a baseless war like this starts, people stop what they are doing and shift their focus to this because it is so important not only for Ukraine but for the whole world,” he said. “It affects everybody’s freedom on a number of different levels. There is going to be trickle-down to the average household of the fallout from this war, no pun intended.”
Kulick said many people want to help in any way they can, including opening their homes. But from a logistical standpoint, it’s not so easy, as airports have been closed, thus making it hard to get supplies into the country or get people out. Some parishioners who are American citizens were visiting family in Ukraine when the war broke out, and it took them days to reach Poland and get back to the U.S
Despite the difficulties, people continue to show their support. The church raised $5,000 at a service last weekend, and a rabbi from Charlotte reached out, as the Jewish people in the area want to offer their help, too.
Kulick suggests contacting Ukrainian Federal Credit Union in Charlotte if they want to help.
While the Ukrainian people sincerely appreciate all of the support, Kulick said there is one thing they truly wish for. “The most important thing that the Ukrainians would want is for the war to be stopped and for them to be able to return to their country to clean up and rebuild,” he said. “I don’t think they want to be permanent refugees.”
Kulick said the Ukrainian people’s resolve is so strong because they have had a taste of freedom after the Soviet Union fell over 30 years ago, and they don’t want to fall back under the thumb of communists. In Soviet Ukraine, churches were closed and used for storage houses and museums, leading the religious leaders to go underground so people could express their faith. The Ukrainian language was banned, and everyone was forced to go to school and communicate in Russian.
With their newfound freedom in December 1991, the outside world opened to them with electronic media and travel.
“They rather die than be controlled like that again, because they know how life could be from their visits to free countries,” said Kulick. “They want to be free to express themselves as peace-loving, creative, competent people.”
Kulick has high praise for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has remained in the country to fight the invading Russians.
“I think he has proven that he is a competent and inspirational leader,” he said. “He’s making all the right choices, right moves, and choosing all the right words to express to the nation and the people of the world. He’s turned into a superstar.”
Some on the progressive left have said on social media that while Ukraine has a right to fight for its freedom, too much media attention has been paid to the war because it’s based on one race of the Ukrainian people. Kulick disagrees.
“Ukraine is as much of a melting pot as the U.S. is,” he said. “There are people of all races and nations that have made Ukraine their home.”
Kulick doesn’t hold out much hope for peace talks between Russia and Ukraine.
“The Russians will come to the table with, ‘Have you had enough?'” he said. “Do want to just surrender and let us take over the country? If not, we are going to keep doing what we are doing until you have had enough. The Ukrainians aren’t going to concede anything. They already conceded because there has been so much destruction in the country.”
He said while Ukraine has lost a lot of people and infrastructure, the Russian Army has lost a lot of men and were fooled into the fight. Putin first characterized the invasion as a training exercise, and then called the Russian troops invading Ukraine liberators and peacekeepers.
“This is going to be hard to forgive, Kulick said. “As Christians, our main job in our existence is to love and forgive. That is going to be a very difficult task for Ukrainians at this point.”