NJ Ukrainians say need for relief hasn't waned on war's second anniversary. How to help

For the past two years, North Jersey's Ukrainian Americans have raced to their phones whenever they've heard word about missile attacks and air raid sirens in their homeland. Their hearts sank as they followed the rising death toll.

This weekend, they will mark the somber second anniversary of Russia's invasion with vigils, fundraisers and a rally in Washington.

On Saturday, St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Passaic will hold a memorial service and candlelight vigil in support of Ukraine at 6 p.m. Other events are scheduled around New York and New Jersey, home to about 230,000 people of Ukrainian heritage.

St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Passaic, NJ holds a service and candlelight vigil to mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion in Ukraine on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023. A woman holds a candle during the vigil.
St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Passaic, NJ holds a service and candlelight vigil to mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion in Ukraine on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023. A woman holds a candle during the vigil.

"We will hold a prayer vigil for all of those who suffered," said Michael Lewko of Little Falls, a vice president of the Ukrainian World Congress. "We need divine intervention to advocate for Ukraine. Our roots are there and our hearts are there."

At the vigil, funds will be collected to help with humanitarian aid, organizers said.

Ukrainians in NJ bound for DC

Meanwhile, the church expects to send several busloads of New Jersey residents to Washington, D.C., where Republican resistance has stalled additional funding for Ukraine's defense. Supporters will gather at the Lincoln Memorial.

"They are running low on ammunition," said Oksana Hnatczuk, a Clifton teacher whose aunt and cousin fled for their lives when the violence hit Ukraine and are now scattered around Europe. "You can't fight a war without weapons. We want to get the message across to our leaders that they need to pay attention to what's happening: Putin won't stop with Ukraine — he will go to Poland, he will go to Estonia. This isn't just about Ukraine — it's about the whole world."

Within three months of the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, St. Nicholas raised enough money to donate two ambulances, which were sent to the front-line cities Kramatorsk and Avdiivka. "If they can save one life of a husband or a brother or son, it's just one of our contributions to the effort," said George Oliarnyk of Mahwah, a second-generation Ukrainian American.

The parish has also sent collections of clothing, gloves and medical supplies.

More: NJ Ukrainian Americans to attend DC rally to pressure Congress for war aid

In Morris County, the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey has offered support for Ukrainian refugees who have come to the U.S. as well as donations for those still in the war zone. The congregation in Whippany has shipped 18 containers of items, three ambulances, 11 wound VAC devices to treat the injured, 15 pickup trucks and 100,000 diapers to Ukraine, totaling about $4 million worth of aid. The church continues to collect items and funds.

Ukraine fundraisers, vigils in North Jersey

In addition to the vigil at St. Nicholas Ukrainian, other events are scheduled in the coming days and weeks:

  • Saturday, Feb. 24: Ukraine supporters will rally at 2 p.m. in Washington, D.C., including a march from the Lincoln Memorial to the Russian ambassador's residence.

  • Sunday, Feb. 25, 10 a.m.: A prayer and solidarity service will be held at St. Michael of the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church in Yonkers, New York.

  • Monday, Feb. 26, 7 p.m.: The Ukrainian Cultural Center in Somerset will hold a "prayerful commemoration of the second anniversary of Russia's war in Ukraine."

  • Friday, April 12, 7 p.m.: Karaoke fundraiser to supply tourniquets for Ukraine, sponsored by the Ukrainian American Cultural Center in Whippany.

St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Passaic, NJ holds a service and candlelight vigil to mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion in Ukraine on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023.
St. Nicholas Ukrainian Catholic Church in Passaic, NJ holds a service and candlelight vigil to mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion in Ukraine on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023.

How to donate

  • The Ukrainian Congress Committee of America is accepting financial donations and medical supplies.

  • Military and humanitarian aid can be donated to the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Whippany.

  • Hope for Ukraine supports a variety of services, including support for refugees, a winter clothing drive and medical support.

Debate in Washington

The lapse in aid in Washington reflects a deterioration of support among some rank-and-file Republicans in Congress, encouraged by former President Donald Trump. They have raised a variety of objections, including concerns about waste and fraud and that weapons could be diverted from the Ukrainian military.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., has refused to take up a bill with $60 billion in aid to Ukraine unless it also includes U.S. border security and immigration reforms, but Republicans also scuttled legislation this month that included both of those provisions.

Lewko, who has family in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, travels there several times a year.

"My relatives there don't understand why nobody around the world is standing up for them," he said. "Now is a critical time for us to fight the Russian propaganda, which claims Ukraine shouldn't be supported."Do you see what Putin did to Alexey Navalny?" he said, referring to the dissident who died in Russian custody last week. Vladimir Putin, Lewko said, "feels he can kill anybody. We have to stand up to him. This is the ultimate fight for democracy and freedom."

Deena Yellin covers religion for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering how the spiritual intersects with our daily lives, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: yellin@northjersey.com

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Ukraine relief: How to help as NJ plans vigils, rally