On a wet and somber gray evening last week, about three dozen people came together in Apalachicola to offer support for the Ukrainian people who are living through bombs raining down on their country.
The short service March 15, which had to be moved indoors from Riverfront Park due to the rain, was not unlike so many others being held throughout the United States in the four weeks since Russian military forces invaded the sovereign nation to their west in what Russian President Vladimir Putin has called a “special military operation (to) demilitarize and de-Nazify” Ukraine.
With Jim Bachrach serving as emcee, pastor David Walker opened with a prayer and pastor Valentina Webb closed with one, and in between there were readings by middle-schooler Bailey Allen, who read a poem called Kyrie by Boris Khersonsky, and by Sophia Strickland, who read the lyrics of “Molytva za Ukrainu” (Ukrainian: “Prayer for Ukraine”), a 1885 work that asks God’s blessing on Ukraine and is considered the spiritual anthem of Ukraine.
Carol Harris plucked a plaintive melody on the mandolin, as the sound reverberated through the cavernous space in George Mahr’s restored brick warehouse, the Apalachicola Ice Company, on the Apalachicola riverfront.
The audience listened to a recording of the song “Can One Man Save The World?” a song penned by Grammy-nominated artist John Ondrasik as a tribute to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
But the most stirring moment came at the tail end of the service, when a man carrying a Ukrainian flag strode to the center of the large space and spoke.
He told of how he was the grandson of four Ukrainian immigrants, the parents of both his mother and his father, who had come to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to start a life in America.
“My grandmother, who was one of the kindest people I ever met, the only time I ever heard her say anything negative is when she used the word ‘Bolshevik,” he said. “This was related to (Joseph) Stalin in the 1930s when he was responsible for starving at least three to seven million Ukrainians to death.
“We are once again in a situation where it’s not about the Russian people. It’s about power-hungry, power-mad leaders,” he said. “And just like Stalin, we now have Putin.”
The St. George Island man, the husband of Betsy Nofziger, who is active with senior citizen outreach through the Elder Care Community Council, is Dr. Richard Mitsak, a retired psychiatrist from Columbus, Ohio.
A veteran of service in the U.S. Army, the American-born Mitsak said afterwards that the war in Ukraine has awakened feelings of both anger and sadness, and sharpened his focus on his identity.
“You’ve heard lots of prayers today,” he said in closing his remarks to the gathering. “And I’d just like to ask you to think of Ukraine in your thoughts and your prayers as this goes on. And just simply do what you can to support the people.”