Philly Ukrainians gather to pray for their homeland

Posted: March 18, 2014

IN THE LAST pew of a North Philadelphia cathedral, Wolodymyr Ryndycz stood alone and sang, sending up prayers for his homeland.

The turmoil that has taken hold of Ukraine reminded Ryndycz, 85, of his own troubles there more than a half-century ago, when he said the German army took him from his home at 16 and forced him to work in a camp in Bavaria.

"I never saw my parents again. Never saw my brother again," he said yesterday, inside the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, on Franklin Street. "My brother was sent to prison in Siberia."

Born in the Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk when it was the Polish city of Stanislawow, Ryndycz came to the United States in 1950.

He lives near the cathedral and was one of hundreds there for a special prayer service for peace in Ukraine attended by three archbishops, including Archbishop Charles Chaput, of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

"I feel, myself, that I was blessed to come here," Ryndycz said, as he wiped away a tear. "It pains me to see things the way they are there now."

Archbishop Stefan Soroka, of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, condemned yesterday's voting in Crimea as illegal. Early results showed that an overwhelming majority of Crimeans want to join Russia, although the United Nations and the United States have said that they will not recognize the vote.

"Our beloved country of Ukraine his been divided by force, from violence and intimidation," he said beneath the cathedral's vast domed ceiling.

Stefan Makuch, 83, recalled his family being uprooted during World War II in Ukraine. He fled the Russian army by moving west, away from his hometown of Zboriv (called Zborow, Poland, when he was born). His family worked in displaced-persons camps in Vienna and Bavaria, he said.

In 1950, his family came to Philadelphia and never left.

"Why did we move away? We were at the risk of being liquidated by the Russians," said Makuch, a former investigator for the Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office.

Makuch blamed former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for many of the problems there and said he believes that the country will rebound under a new regime.

"Right now, the government that is in power is trying to right things, and stabilize things and turn back toward Europe," he said. "In the past, they were pickpockets and thieves."

Meanwhile, a much younger man, Vasyl Matyashovsky, said that he had been in Kiev at the height of the protests last month. He scrolled through his digital camera outside the church, revealing pictures of burned-out buses and makeshift medical tents.

He recently arrived in the U.S. from the Lviv Business School in western Ukraine to speak at universities and urge academics to help get his country running smoothly again.

"We want people to help build a new country," he said as the church's 6 p.m. bells chimed.

Back inside, Chaput told the worshippers that Philadelphia Roman Catholics support Ukraine.

"We join you not just with our minds," Chaput said, "but also with our hearts in this time of suffering."

On Twitter: @JasonNark

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