Message from Ukraine

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!” (Psalm 130).

This is what we hear from Ukraine, today. There are three parts to this communication to you. The first is a message sent to Pastor Lanny Westphal (Interim Senior Pastor, St. Mark Lutheran Church, Washington, IL) from his sister, who lives with her husband and family in Ukraine. You may distribute her story wherever you like. The second part is a public communication from Bishop Pavlo Shvarts of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine. The third part provides information about four avenues of assisting aid programs for refugees now and, hopefully, for those suffering loss within Ukraine in the future: Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, the Lutheran World Federation, and the ELCA Slovak Zion Synod (International Relations Committee).

—Bishop John Roth

My name is Diane. I live with my proud, brave Ukrainian husband on a very small farm outside of Kyiv, Ukraine. In 2014, I moved to Ukraine to teach at an international school. After only a few days, I fell in love with my new country. Although Russia has invaded Ukraine, I have decided not to evacuate. These are the life events that have led me to this choice.

In 1985, I had a social studies teacher at Salk Junior High in Elk River, Minnesota who taught us a bit about the Soviet Union. Her name was Su Arnold. This was about the same time that Rocky IV came out. Our teacher showed us that the Soviet Union was made up of people like us; the movie showed us that the Soviet Union was evil. I chose to believe my teacher, and decided to study the Russian language. My teenage self hoped that learning a language could help bring peace to the world.

My world opened after that, as the school counselor recommended Concordia Language Villages, and my dear mom paid for me to attend Russian camp for two summers in high school. There I met people who became mentors and friends to me for my entire life.

I studied Russian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and dreamed of being a Russian teacher. I wanted to give the gift of language and culture to a new generation. The Cold War had ended, and there was work to be done. If the world could understand each other, I reasoned, peace could last. When I took my proficiency test, the Russian Professor told me that I did not have the aptitude to learn Russian. I was devastated, but not completely.

After graduating, I moved to South Korea to teach English. There, I made friends with Russians who were also working in Seoul. They inspired me to study again. In 1997, I moved to Moscow to work and dedicate myself to learning the language. I had the most wonderful support from my teacher, and Russian and American friends. In two years, I was ready to enter the Masters Program in the Linguistics Department at Moscow State University.

I loved living in Moscow, especially the theater and museums. My friend Igor and I traveled around to visit the old cities and monasteries; my favorites were 11th century cathedrals. All week long, I sat in a cold room with other students from around the world. My closest schoolmate was from China. She taught Russian at a university in Beijing, and her husband worked at the Chinese Embassy in Moscow. I was achieving my dream, both academically with the intensity of the classes, and personally, as I was part of Russian-Chinese-USA discussions every day. The Russian language was our conduit for “peace talks” as we solved the problems of the world and practiced grammar exercises.

After completing my degree in 2001, I moved back to the United States a couple months before 9/11. I couldn’t find a job using my Russian, so I went back to teaching English, first in St. Paul and then in Milwaukee. While I lived in the United States, I always worked with immigrants. I was lucky to have a job where my students and colleagues would teach me about their cultures, as I helped them learn English and life skills in the USA.

After ten years I was ready for new horizons. I moved to Armenia to teach at an international school, and then transferred to Kyiv, Ukraine after three years. My first days in Ukraine shocked me. I had expected another smileless, somber former Soviet Republic, but I found Kyiv full of friendly and optimistic people. This was the summer after the 2014 Maidan Revolt which led to the Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. In the midst of this terrible loss, I hadn’t expected so much positive energy. I felt bad that I only spoke very basic Ukrainian, but people switched to Russian without a blink when they heard my simplistic attempts to communicate.

In Ukraine, I found everything I had been searching for in Russia. I loved the reverence for homemade food, clothes, embroidery, and folk crafts. Ukrainians highly value gardening and farm animals, just like me!!! Then, into my new world came my quiet, shy Ukrainian husband. I wasn’t interested at first, but he was stubborn, and won me over.

When I think back to the steps I made in junior high, and how I imagined my future, I would not have imagined living on a farm in Ukraine. I also would not have imagined that the country where I had lived for five years would invade my new home.

Many people have urged me to leave Ukraine, but this is my life now. Does a wife leave her husband when he is in danger? Do I evacuate and leave Yurii alone to take care of his aging mother, family, and all of our animals and plants? I can’t.

I’ve made my choice to remain with Yurii, my brave Ukrainian warrior. He’s ready to fight to keep Ukraine independent. In our eyes, the war right now in Ukraine is the battle to keep the world independent. Are you willing to be just a compassionate spectator as the world’s dictators choose their next target? Or will you fight? With your votes. With your money. With your protests.

Whether I survive this war or not, I remain true to my teenage aspiration to help bring peace to the world - before I dreamt of diplomacy through language learning, but now is the time to fight.

The Lutheran World Federation provides an interview that was conducted with Bishop Pavlo Shvarts of the German Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Ukraine. Bishop Shvarts is near Kharkiv and offers a glimpse of what he and his congregations are experiencing.

Several Lutheran organizations are hard at work providing relief to those taking refuge from the crisis in Ukraine as well as those who are remaining.

  • Lutheran World Relief is distributing quilts and kits from its supply and is asking for donations to provide further resources such as emergency food, water, shelter, and medical supplies.
  • Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service offers resources for support on its website: daily prayer and meditation prompts by email, prayers for worship and small groups, and templates for advocacy messages to President Biden and members of Congress.
  • The Lutheran World Federation is accepting donations to support the churches and people of Ukraine and asks for prayers for each other and especially for the churches and people of Ukraine and neighboring countries that are providing assistance. They invite you to an online prayer service tomorrow, March 2nd, at 10:00 AM CT.
  • The Slovak Zion Synod of the ELCA is taking donations for pastors and congregations of the Lutheran Church in Slovakia that are aiding refugees. Slovakia shares a border with Ukraine and has seen more than 10,000 people cross into the country from Ukraine. Checks payable to Slovak Zion Synod with "Ukraine" in the memo line can be mailed to Slovak Zion Synod, Attn: International Relations Committee, P.O. Box 1033, Torrington, CT 06790.

The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine is active and posting updates on Facebook. Our synod's own Facebook page will share more updates we get them.

Yours in Christ,

Michael Horn

Director of Communications

Central/Southern Illinois Synod

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