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Armed With the Faith in Ukraine

  • JOHN BURGER

Knights on the front lines offer their service—and their lives—to defend the country they love.


UkraineSoldier1Andrii Boiko, who returned to military service in February only a few months after retiring, is pictured in Yavoriv. Photo by Andrey GorbIn the buildup to the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, much of the public discussion was about the size and strength of Russia's military. How could Ukraine stand up to such overwhelming force? A Russian takeover of Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, and the installation of a puppet government seemed all but inevitable.

But for more than eight months, Ukraine has surprised the world with its tenacity and resilience. True, weapons from the United States and other Western nations have helped Ukrainians defend themselves and even take back a significant amount of territory. But the country's military has proven to be a force to be reckoned with, and the indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian people has inspired many onlookers. People from all walks of life, including members of the Knights of Columbus, have volunteered to defend their country.

"Many of our brother Knights are on the front lines even now," Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly noted in his annual report Aug. 2, adding that several have been killed in battle. "We pray for their families. We commend their souls to the Lord. And as an Order, we pledge to honor their sacrifice and stand with Ukraine—for as long as it takes."

As the United States and Canada, key allies of Ukraine, honor their military veterans Nov. 11, we share here the stories of four Ukrainian soldiers—Knights who are currently serving, as well as a Knight and the son of a Knight who made the ultimate sacrifice for their homeland.

A Patriotic People

Russian President Vladimir Putin has framed his so-called special military operation in Ukraine as a way to "denazify" and demilitarize the country and to protect Ukraine's Russian speakers, whom he claimed were being persecuted. Yet even before the invasion, it was abundantly clear to many that Putin's target is Ukraine's very existence.

In the summer of 2021, Putin published an essay arguing that Ukraine has historically been part of the Russian sphere and thus was not a genuine nation. Meanwhile, Russia has tried to eliminate anything explicitly Ukrainian in its occupied territories: The Russian language was taught in schools rather than Ukrainian; the Russian ruble was introduced; only Russian television could be viewed.

Such an agenda, however, has only strengthened Ukrainians' determination to defend their country.

"Patriotism is vital today," said Andrii Boiko, grand knight of Blessed Mykolay Charnetsky Council 16848 in Zolochiv, a small city in western Ukraine. "In difficult times, you take up arms and defend your homeland."

Boiko graduated from a military school and served in the army until he retired in 2021 as a lieutenant colonel. On the day of Russia's invasion, he received a call to return to service, with the task of retrieving and repairing damaged military equipment.

There was no hesitation in his response. "I came back to work," he said simply. "I think that [patriotism] is somehow laid down at the genetic level of Ukrainians. For centuries, the enemy has been destroying our nation, destroying our culture. We are like bees—when the heat comes, they send invisible signals to each other. So are Ukrainians."

Boiko's wife also serves in the military, and they have two children: a daughter, who is a military cadet and university student in Lviv, and an 11-year-old son.

Like many of his brother Knights and fellow countrymen, Boiko is far from discouraged, and he remains hopeful for Ukraine's future.

"When I'm born in a country I love, a culture I love, a language I speak, everything is precious to me. These are my people. Everything that surrounds you is a creation of God," he said. "I have faith and confidence that God's grace will grant us victory."

Ukraine2Liubomyr Andrusiv, a psychotherapist and professor now serving in Ukraine’s military, prays at Trinity Church in Kamianets Podilskyi. Photo by Andrey GorbUnlike Boiko, Liubomyr Andrusiv was not a military professional before the war. But he could not stand by as a foreign power threatened his nation.

"From the beginning, I wondered how I could be useful and assist in the war effort," said Andrusiv, a psychotherapist and professor of philosophy. "Although I work in another field, I was ready to defend Ukraine as a man and a warrior."

Now, Andrusiv, a member of Andrey Sheptytsky Council 15804 in Ivano-Frankivsk, is serving as a soldier in the engineering corps of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

As an "outsider" to the military, he has noticed that the Knights and the armed forces have much in common.

"We are fighting for the truth," he said. "If we fight with God for the truth, then victory is ours. To be a Knight is to join men of diverse occupations who share common Christian values."

Andrusiv's wife and two children were part of the massive flow of refugees out of Ukraine in the early months of the war.

"My wife and I understand that we will be apart for at least a year or longer," he said. "And we try our best to maintain our relationship and keep that emotional connection strong."

Despite their separation, Andrusiv is buoyed by the Word of God and strengthened by fraternity.

"There is a passage I like from the Bible: 'As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.' This is what we see among Christ's disciples," he said, adding that it is also lived out by his brother Knights.

"The Knights of Columbus now directly serves and provides shelter to displaced people. We are totally committed," Andrusiv affirmed. "As men, we are called to service and action, and it is already bearing good fruit in Ukraine."

The Supreme Sacrifice

Ukraine3Ivan and Olena Dovzhinsky stand at the site of a bridge between Irpin and Kyiv destroyed in the early days of the war. • Inset: A photo of Bohdan Dovzhinsky is displayed at his parents' home in Irpin. Photos by Andrey GorbBoiko and Andrusiv are well aware that they could be asked to give, in Andrusiv's words, "even more" as they defend their families, their Church and their nation. They could be called to give their very lives.

Bohdan Dovzhinsky, 28, and Oleh Vorobyov, 44, were two soldiers who made that sacrifice.

The details of Dovzhinsky's death are not entirely clear, as they involve sensitive military information. But what is clear is that he saved the lives of others before he laid down his own.

Dovzhinsky was a pilot, and while returning from a special mission to the besieged city of Mariupol on May 2, his helicopter was shot down, and he was killed.

"Bohdan loved life very much. He loved the sky," recalled his father, Ivan Dovzhinsky, a member of Blessed Mykolay Charnetsky Council 16890 in Irpin and now a soldier in the armed forces as well.

"We do not have all the information, but his helicopter was shot down near the village of Ulianovka," Ivan said. "He dreamed of studying further, of developing a military career. But the war ended his young life, which he laid down for all Ukrainians. His squadron commander said, 'I could only send the best there, because only the best could do such a task.'"

Bohdan's mother, Olena, speaking through tears, added, "One boy said, 'Thanks to Bohdan, I survived. I don't know how my fate would have turned out, if not for him.'"

"One never believes that this can happen to your son," said Ivan. "In life, even in difficult moments, one turns to God. If you sincerely pray and have deep faith, then so be it. You must accept and carry on through life."

Oleh Vorobyov, a member of Blessed Hryhorij Lakota Council 17651 in Lviv, was killed in a battle in eastern Ukraine later the same month.

Vorobyov was a fighting man, but his primary fight was for the family, both his own and others.

"Faith is very important to our family," said his wife, Olha. "He was an incredible father to our children."

A scientist by profession, Oleh served as a communications specialist in 2015 with the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. He saw how difficult it could be for men who were away from their families.

"They were ordinary men, and suddenly they had to take up arms and go to the front," Olha explained.

After completing his service, Oleh and his wife started Happy Together, a project to support ATO families and build bonds between husbands and wives. In 2021, he learned about the Knights of Columbus and joined.

"These are men who love their country, love their families and want to serve God and do works of charity," she said. "They grow stronger together, and therefore the Order was very close to Oleh."

When Russia invaded Ukraine, Oleh was called upon to fight for his country again.

Ukraine4Oleh Vorobyov holds a guitar in this family portrait with his wife, Olha, and two children. "Music was always present in our family," Olha said. "Even at the front, he found a guitar and played." Photo courtesy of Olha Vorobyova"It should be said that he was not a military man in spirit," Olha said. "But he was a patriot. He loved Ukraine very much. And when the summons came, of course he went."

Oleh called his family every night from the front lines. "When he called, we gathered with the children and prayed Psalm 91 together," Olha said.

In mid-May, Oleh told his wife that he sensed he was going to die.

"I told him that it can't be. Everything will be fine," Olha recounted. "We pray Psalm 91 every night: 'Though a thousand will fall at your side, ten thousand at your right, near you it shall not come.'"

She continued: "He replied that those were lines from the Old Testament, but Christ said, 'Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.'"

On May 30, Lt. Oleh Vorobyov was killed in a battle near the city of Popasna.

"I can't imagine how I could survive all this without faith in God and support from the Christian community," Olha said, reflecting on the loss of her husband and the sacrifice of so many others. "We can only trust in God and pray we will one day live in a flourishing Ukraine."

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Acknowledgement

burgerJohn Burger. "Armed With the Faith in Ukraine." Columbia (November 2022).

This article appeared in the November 2022 issue of Columbia magazine and is reprinted with permission of the Knights of Columbus, New Haven, Conn.

The Author

John Burger writes for Aleteia.org and is a member of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Council 16253 in New Haven, Conn.

Copyright © 2022 Columbia
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