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Friday, February 16, 2024

In Ukraine I witnessed unity, sacrificial love and a people’s unbroken spirit

As a Ukrainian-born American pastor, I could not fully anticipate what I would find when I entered my war-wrecked homeland to offer support a few weeks ago. The battle is brutal, costly and painful, but ordinary citizens, soldiers and ministers are united with a gritty resolve to hold fast through this unjust and unprovoked assault. 

The fight is far from over. It may even be just the beginning, but my time in Ukraine has confirmed one thing I already knew—the spirit of Ukraine and her people will never be broken. 

I entered Ukraine through Poland and spent the night near the border of Belarus. This was my first experience with military checkpoints and, for me, the first sign that Ukraine is at war. 

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In northwestern Ukraine, local villagers opened their home to me without reservation, and I was given a safe place to sleep and three meals. This is the Ukraine I know and love—Ukrainian hospitality on display. Donations and supplies filled my van, ready to be distributed throughout the country for those traumatized by the violence.

Andrew Moroz is a Ukrainian-born pastor in Lynchburg, Virginia. In April 2022 he traveled to Ukraine to provide aid.

Andrew Moroz is a Ukrainian-born pastor in Lynchburg, Virginia. In April 2022 he traveled to Ukraine to provide aid.

From there, I traveled to Kyiv, where I joined a group of courageous volunteers who have been acquiring, sorting and delivering aid to those living in conflict zones. 

One day we drove six hours to a town that had just been liberated from Russian forces. All around us we saw the carnage of war: destroyed military equipment, damaged buildings and hurting people. Hundreds gathered to receive food and supplies. In addition to physical care, our team was able to provide spiritual and emotional care. 

Andrew Moroz is a Ukrainian-born pastor in Lynchburg, Virginia. He is seen here on a visit in April 2022 to Ukraine to help distribute aid.

Andrew Moroz is a Ukrainian-born pastor in Lynchburg, Virginia. He is seen here on a visit in April 2022 to Ukraine to help distribute aid.

Our message was simple: “You are not alone. God has not forgotten you. God loves you. We love you.” This was a moving experience. I will never forget the weary faces of the people that we served and the courage of the volunteers on the front lines. 

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Courage would be the common thread woven through my week in Ukraine. 

On our return to the western border, my team was stopped multiple times by the Ukrainian military and detained for further questions. At one point, we were lost. It was getting late when we were stopped at military gunpoint and our identities checked yet again. 

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This tense moment left an impression, marking me with deep respect and gratitude for those protecting the people of Ukraine. They are working tirelessly, identifying and removing every threat to Ukrainian sovereignty.

Andrew Moroz is a Ukrainian-born pastor in Lynchburg, Virginia. He is seen here distributing aid in Ukraine in April 2022.

Andrew Moroz is a Ukrainian-born pastor in Lynchburg, Virginia. He is seen here distributing aid in Ukraine in April 2022.

My final stop was southwestern Ukraine. There I connected with groups of volunteers in churches and local businesses, everyday heroes gathering essential supplies for conflict zones. 

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Ordinary people are sacrificing their time and personal resources to help others in need. I shared a meal with one family who had opened their home to a group of refugees from eastern Ukraine. 

I witnessed unity and sacrificial love all over this embattled country. I experienced it myself, and will never be the same. 

Ukrainian servicemen ride atop an armoured fighting vehicle Tuesday as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues at an unknown location in Eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian servicemen ride atop an armoured fighting vehicle Tuesday as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues at an unknown location in Eastern Ukraine.
(Press service of the Ukrainian Ground Forces/Handout via REUTERS)

After one week in Ukraine, I realize I should have known what to expect all along, because it’s what I’ve always known to the core of my being: Ukraine will overcome because her people are kind, resilient, and above all, courageous. 

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They are fierce warriors defending their children, their lives and their freedom. They have understood what we are beginning to understand in the United States—that this conflict is not just about Ukraine. It’s about the dignity of human life, it’s about liberty and it’s about democracy all over the world. 

The horrifying stories out of places like Bucha and Irpin remind us that freedom often comes at the terribly heavy price of human life. 

  • Image 1 of 4

    A cemetery worker in Bucha on Sunday takes a break from working in a mass grave to identify civilians killed during the war against Russia. (AP/Rodrigo Abd)

  • Image 2 of 4

    Sergei, 11, waits his turn to receive donated food during an aid humanitarian distribution in Bucha, in the outskirts of Kyiv, on Tuesday, April 20, 2022. (AP/Emilio Morenatti)

  • Image 3 of 4

    Olga Zhovtobrukh, 55, cries during an Easter religious service celebrated at a church in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, on Sunday, April 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) (AP)

  • Image 4 of 4

    Volunteers load bodies of civilians killed in Bucha onto a truck to be taken to a morgue for investigation, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 12, 2022.  (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

We cannot turn away and we cannot allow our hearts to grow cold. Ukraine is ground zero in the fight against the darkness of tyranny. We must do all that we can, no matter the cost, to stand with Ukraine. 

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We can share their burden. We can join Ukrainians in the battle with our prayers, finances and essential resources to sustain their labor. 

I stand with Ukraine. Will you join me?

Andrew Moroz is a Ukrainian-born pastor in Lynchburg, Virginia.

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