‘All life is interrupted’: Students, staff, faculty pray for Ukraine

Nataliia Irwin bows her head during prayer. Originally from Ukraine, Irwin pleads for the safety of her family amid the struggle. Friday, February 25, 2022. (Photo by: Xander Ordinola)
Nataliia Irwin bows her head during prayer. Originally from Ukraine, Irwin pleads for the safety of her family amid the struggle. Friday, February 25, 2022. (Photo by: Xander Ordinola)

On February 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war on Ukraine. Despite happening nearly 6,000 miles away, the global impact of Russia’s invasion of the sovereign country made its way onto Southern’s campus last week, drawing more than a dozen people to Brock Hall.

On Friday, February 25, students and faculty gathered in a circle of prayer to intercede on behalf of those fighting, fleeing or simply trying to survive during this crisis. 

Several of the attendees shed tears in the process, begging for the safety of their friends and family. Some Southern students and employees could not attend the prayer circle in person, but an option to participate via Zoom was available.

 “I’m hoping something happens soon to bring this to a stop,” senior history major Christina Cannon said. “I don’t know much, but I think it’s a pretty ghastly, terrible situation, especially since it was so sudden; so many people didn’t have time to prepare.”

Nicole Parker, an adjunct professor in the School of Religion, and her husband, Alan Parker, a religion professor, adopted their daughter, Anya, from Ukraine three years ago. Parker said villages in the country are now overrun and destroyed, and a close family friend, Dr. Yury Bondarenko, is among those trying to help. 

Bondarenko provided refuge for Ukranians in the Angelia Adventist clinic in Kyiv, where he supplied food and warmth to children from nearby villages, according to Parker. Currently, he is at a different Adventist clinic, near the border of Romania, where he provides medicine, food and other supplies to refugees. 

“I love the people of Ukraine,” Parker said. “We need to realize these are real people. These are my friends, people with names and faces and personalities hiding in basements and having to walk because they’re so cold they’ll freeze. And we get so comfortable here, we forget that these people’s lives matter just as much as ours. So when we pray, we need to pray for the people of Ukraine as other real people.”

Nataliia Irwin, office manager for the School of Journalism and Communication, moved to the United States from Ukraine 12 years ago. Her mother is currently with her in the U.S., but her brother, cousins and the rest of her extended family are living in Ukraine. 

Irwin has been keeping in contact with her family. She said “all life is interrupted,” and that bomb sirens go off several times a day.

“My cousin told me that they’re getting used to [the bomb sirens],” Irwin said. “Like, not every time the siren goes off, he goes to the shelter. He just stays, and he said, ‘I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I don’t want to go.’” 

School of Business Professor Michelle Doucoumes said western culture has “been removed from war” over the decades. The most recent conflicts have occurred on foreign soil and were quite small compared to World Wars I and II, which has severely detached people from the human aspects of warfare, she explained.

Doucoumes said people pleading for a better situation in Ukraine are fearful that those with the resources to help simply do not understand the gravity of the invasion. 

“It’s a wake-up call that the developed world has not passed war, that war is a very real reality,” Doucoumes said. “And I think that this––the pandemic we’ve been through––[and] all of these things are reminders of where our world is at in history. And we can’t take for granted what we have.” 

For anyone seeking to help, donations are being collected through various websites and apps such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC), AdventHealth, UNICEF, ADRA and several others. However, according to Doucoumes, the situation will not improve without the belief that “God can intervene.” 

Parker agreed. “Number one, I think we need God’s intervention softening hearts,” Parker said. “The people of Ukraine, from everything I’m seeing and from what I know of them, they fight together. They believe in community and [in] just loving and embracing others.” 

Megan Yoshioka also contributed to this report.

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