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Ukraine: How should Sacramento’s Christian Diaspora react?

September 6, 2014
by George

Most people who live in Sacramento, California know that there is a significant Slavic diaspora here. By some estimations, it numbers approximately 50,000, of which the plurality is Ukrainian, with Russian immigrants a close second. Both groups and likely other Slavic minorities in the State’s capital region emigrated here as religious refugees. I know, because my family was one of them. We came in 1991, soon after a wave of immigration began following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989.

25 year anniversary

25 year anniversary of Slavic immigration to Sacramento, California – Yuriy Popko

Regardless of which part of the USSR we or our parents came from, we hold a common bond, and I’m not referring to ethnicity. That’s obvious. We often all get lumped together and labeled “Russian” because we look alike in many ways, and Russia is the largest Slavic country. I was often addressed this way, especially throughout the school years, and I didn’t mind it so much, although many of my Ukrainian friends objected (I’m sure you can guess why now). But there’s something else that should bind us even closer together than our familial blood – and that is a common faith.

We (or our families) left our Slavic homelands because the Soviets, who were atheistic communists, persecuted religious minorities among which Christians were the largest group. But before the red terror, Eastern Orthodoxy was the official State religion of the Slavic world going back over one thousand years to the Kyivan-Rus, the ancient religious capitol of the Slavic world located in modern-day Kyiv, Ukraine. That’s a long history lesson in itself (in comparison to the centuries of American history). But what I want to mention here is that something important came about over that millennium.

Religious toleration is a fairly recent development in world history, with roots in the Protestant Reformation of 16th Century Europe. As with other noble concepts, Christianity gave birth to a better civilization in which Christians of various orthodox (in the sense of conforming to historical Christian faith) confessions learned how to coexist together peacefully. Since the collapse of the USSR, many of the Slavic peoples have also begun to rediscover and build upon the faith of their ancestors and the fruits of reformation are being seen in the political sphere (Latvia’s Christian party) and society (Bulgaria’s homeschooling movement and Poland’s post-Soviet economic recovery come to mind).

Ukraine’s time has come as well. If you’ve been following the news since the beginning of the Ukrainian Revolution this year (although the peaceful protests began in November 2013, the criminal ex-President Yanukovich fled in February of 2014 thus resulting in a new government), there have been many positive developments. The Euromaidan protests featured representatives of various Christian denominations calling for a peaceful reformation and speaking truth to power. You can find many images of priests and protesters appealing to God. One example is the story of a Ukrainian cossack who was stripped naked by the Berkut (former State Police) and asked about revenge. He replied by saying, “There is a God who sees and He will judge my cause.”

And God has seen how the people have suffered under their Pharaoh who virtually reduced them to slaves, and God has visited Ukraine. Dozens of statues of Lenin, remnants of the idols to godless socialism, have been toppled throughout the country since this revolution for human dignity began. This is not righteous Israel being freed from bondage, for we know we all suffer from human depravity as well. They are fallen human beings, but still bearing the image of God, yearning to be freed from corruption. But so was Israel. I think it’s safe to say that all those missionaries the Slavic diaspora has sent, the evangelistic outreaches, the individual humanitarian donations to relatives in Ukraine, and of course the influence of communication technologies and travel have had an effect. Let’s not give ourselves too much credit, though, for God is in control, working out His purposes in everything. I, for one, personally feel that we could have done more and should be doing more, especially now.

In geopolitical terms, Ukraine is in a tug-of-war between the East and West, but this doesn’t have to result in it being torn to shreds, politically or spiritually. Just like the diverse Slavic community here in the Sacramento diaspora can get along despite our different national origins, Ukrainians, whether Russian-speaking or not, can learn the Christian virtue of toleration for the sake of peace. There are approximately 70 Slavic churches of various denominations and confessions locally, and to be sure, there are quarrels among us due to language or because of some doctrines (as between Baptists and Pentecostals), but we are united in Christ as His body, the Church. Let’s act upon this unity for Ukraine.

Whether we are Russian or Ukrainian, or Russian- or Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians, we have been adopted by a new country, the United States of America, a country of immigrants. We escaped from behind the iron curtain of irreligion and oppression to what we thought was an auditorium of Christian toleration (I say thought only because we see the influence of amorality and socialism attacking the foundations of the faith that gave birth to America). But we are still better off today than we were then. God has given us various resources that can be used to help those less fortunate of our relatives and the faithful that are suffering oversees in this war of Russian aggression against Ukraine (see my article on Ukraine for more background info)*. And Jesus said that to whom much has been given, of them much will be required (Luke 12:48).

Our neighbors will see we are His disciples if we sacrifice our time, energy, money, or whatever we can, to help those we left behind, and first of all our brothers and sisters in Christ, for we are to care for the household of faith (Gal. 6:10). Christians, especially non-Russian Orthodox believers (including Protestants), have been targeted for oppression by the rebels and terrorists supported by Russia. As wintertime approaches in Ukraine, tens of thousands are left with inadequate shelter, food, and clothing, the most basic physical necessities of life. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are estimated to have fled within Ukraine or to neighboring Russia. Many families have been torn apart and more children will be left orphaned or abandoned. Not to mention the spiritual hunger, for man does not live by bread alone.

So what can you do? Examine your resources. Individually, all of us can and should speak up for the truth amidst all of the Kremlin’s propaganda. If our families can spare food or clothing, there are donation centers around Sacramento for Ukraine relief. Our churches should be praying for Ukraine. If you’re knowledgeable, inform your representatives. Use technology and media for a righteous cause. We are of diverse national backgrounds and languages, but shouldn’t be divided. Do what you can. There is a more transcendent unity than blood and history. United by faith, we can be a beautiful example of how Christians, as a family, come together when their brothers and sisters are in need.


Ukrainian Coat of Arms – Yuriy Popko

* It’s not a civil war, like the Kremlin’s Russian propaganda claims and some Western media parrots, unless you are referring to two Slavic nations at war against each other; the majority of Ukrainians even in the warzone want to remain in Ukraine statistics from Pew Research show. This is the truth and we must speak it and rebuke fellow Christians in Russia or elsewhere that deny it or are being deceived.

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