Manhattan College Community Unites to Pray for Ukraine

By Megan LaCreta, Arts & Entertainment Editor

As the fighting in Ukraine worsens, the Manhattan College community took to the quad on main campus to stand in solidarity with Ukraine.

The ceremony took place March 1st, and was organized just days after Russia began its invasion of Ukraine. In attendance was a diverse array of students, faculty and members of the Bronx community, many of whom carried with them Ukrainian flags and homemade signs. Some men sported uniforms identifying them as Ukrainian American veterans.

Father Thomas Franks, the college chaplain, began with a prayer for peace, authored by Pope Francis. 

“Enable us to see everyone who crosses our path as our sister or brother,” said Franks. “Make us sensitive to the plea of our citizens and treat us to turn our weapons of war into implemented peace, our trepidation into confident trust and our quarreling into forgiveness.”

Speaking at the event was Oksana Kulynych, representing the Committee for Holodomor Famine Genocide Awareness. Kulynych expressed that Russian aggression was nothing new to the Ukrainians. The Holodomor genocide was a famine constructed by Stalin’s Soviet Union, which Kulynych stated killed millions of Ukraininans from 1932 to 1933. Her own family had felt the pain of Soviet oppression when her uncle was taken to the Gulag labor camps.

Kulynych’s family in Ukraine today unfortunately faces hardship yet again.

“I spoke to my cousin in Kharkiv and if you’ve been watching the news, Kharkiv is the second largest city in Ukraine and it is being bombarded,” said Kulynych. “She and her children are leaving to try to find a safer place and her husband and brothers and the men are staying on to fight. We are afraid for them. But we are incredibly proud of their bravery and determination to stand up to a much more powerful aggressor.”

Kulynych’s voice wavered, but the crowd broke into applause.

Kulynych asserted that the US and Europe must step in to assist Ukraine, by supplying weapons to Ukraine. She went on to address those who might question why the US should make potential economic sacrifices by isolating Russia.

 “The price of freedom is very high,” she said. “Much higher than the price of oil and gas.”

Later, Rabbi Robert Kaplan, another speaker and a Ukrainian American, addressed Manhattan students directly.

“It is our responsibility, particularly those students here at this college, those whose present and future we rely upon so much, to stand up against war,” Kaplan said. 

Religious studies professor Kevin Ahern, PhD, also addressed students, providing concrete ways to help Ukraine. He listed suggestions from a friend and professor at Catholic University in Ukraine, including reading reliable news sources, supporting effective sanctions, and contacting your representatives in support of the Ukrainian people. For Manhattan students specifically, he suggested donating to Catholic Relief Services, a partner of Manhattan College, and also to organize on campus, offering his assistance to students wishing to take action.

“There are various experiences of student groups and students who have transformed the world,” Ahern said.

Since the prayer for peace event was held, the conflict in Ukraine has escalated. The Commissioner for the UN Refugee Agency stated that one million refugees have been forced out of the country in just seven days of the war. Furthermore, on Friday Russia attacked and occupied a Ukrainian nuclear power plant, Europe’s largest, according to NBC, sparking international concerns of nuclear disaster.

While the idea of war may seem far away to some, it hits close to home for many in the Manhattan College community. Ruta Fiorino is a first generation Ukrainian American, who attended the prayer with her son, sophomore Luke Fiorino. Ruta came from New Jersey to attend, and explained why she wanted to be there.

“We have a lot of family and friends In Ukraine, and you know, we’re going to so many different rallies… Watching the news 24/7, it’s just very heart wrenching. So this makes me feel like I’m doing my part,” Ruta Fiorino said. 

Though he attended alongside his mother, Luke said he would have attended in support of Ukraine regardless.

“It’s disheartening to hear all the stories on social media, but coming here, honestly, I expected there to be maybe twelve people. So it’s kind of shocking to see [all the people in attendance], but it’s really nice, all the support,” Luke Fiorino said. 

Students, faculty and members of the Manhattan College community gathered on the Quad in support of Ukraine. MEGAN LACRETA / THE QUADRANGLE

Despite the war raging in Europe, a sense of unity in support of the Ukrainian people was ever present at the prayer. While the future of the conflict remains unsure, one thing can be certain: Ukrainian pride is alive and well.

A chorus of “slava Ukraini,” rang across the quad.

“Glory to Ukraine,” said the crowd, together.