St. Thomas teacher from Ukraine raises money for motherland

As a professor of philosophy and theology at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Paul Gavrilyuk spends much of his knee-deep days researching God and man.

His nights are devoted to another calling – raising money for teachers’ salaries, school and medical supplies, as well as knee pads, camouflage suits and tourniquets for troops in his native Ukraine, the country from which he emigrated as a graduate student about 30 years ago. .

Within a month, he hopes to support the manufacture of bulletproof vests. Thinking long term, he has already entered into discussions with an American boarding school in suburban Texas and a college in Chicago to set up study abroad experiences for students once the war is over.

DONATIONS EXCEED $350,000

Donations now exceed $350,000, including more than $100,000 raised by his church, Holy Trinity Orthodox Church on Forest Street in St. Paul. Famous Westminster Abbey, the spiritual center of the Anglican Church in London, has contributed its Easter collection to its new non-profit organization, ‘Rebuild Ukraine’ – rebuild-ua.org.

“There is a kind of tradition, in the Eastern European tradition, where churches are well placed to respond in times of crisis,” said Father Jonathan Proctor of Holy Trinity, who called the efforts of Gavrilyuk of “phenomenal”. Religious institutions are known in Ukraine as “a reliable way to bring help to people in need, without too much bureaucracy”.

While Gavrilyuk has a vast network, it didn’t happen overnight.

Gavrilyuk has for years led another nonprofit, the International Orthodox Theological Association, an academic association that brings together the Christian community in Eastern Europe for mega-conferences, such as their inaugural conference in Romania, which has took place in early 2019.

He has another mega-conference planned for Greece in 2023. He was able to contact many of the same contacts, and others, to help Ukrainian schoolchildren living as refugees attend classes at two schools in Lithuania and the Montenegro, while providing badly needed supplies to civilians who took up arms to defend their homeland.

A PERSONAL CALL

His vocation is very personal.

In late February, during the early days of Russian bombing, Gavrilyuk’s brother convinced their parents, both in their 70s, to flee Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital and most populous city.

“It was a road trip that took six days and crossed seven countries,” Gavrilyuk said. “They managed to only have two flat tires…with rockets and shelling overhead.”

During one particular stop in Ternopil, western Ukraine, the family assumed they were safe. Over the course of just over a day, anti-aircraft sirens sounded three times, prompting residents to hide. They kept driving.

Gavrilyuk’s family now live as refugees in Lithuania, alongside thousands of other Ukrainians who fled their country in shock. They are in contact with many others left behind, including non-combatant wives who refuse to flee Ukraine as long as their husbands continue to fight for the Civil Defense troops, a network of thousands of ordinary Ukrainians. In recent years, military training for Ukrainians has been mandatory, with recently expanded roles for women of all ages.

THEOLOGIAN TURNED SNIPER

Partly thanks to this, ordinary residents were able to quickly switch to a civil defense network.

Russia did not expect “teachers, engineers, unemployed, students and others, mainly to join as volunteers or to be conscripted, undergo training for usually two weeks to a month and put their lives on the line. danger,” Gavrilyuk said.

He recently translated a five-page personal account written by a friend, a fellow theology professor in Ukraine, who was previously stationed as a sniper in the Chernobyl region.

“There’s a sort of unwillingness from the nation to just remain a victim,” Gavrilyuk said. “There is no doubt that they were victims. But there is first and foremost a will to resist what is a totally unjustified aggression against Ukraine. It was completely unprovoked.

Short of fighting, what could we do, he asked.

“As an academic, I made a decision to fight violence through peaceful means – by creating a non-profit organization that will endure beyond the war and help rebuild Ukraine on a larger scale. “, did he declare.

“HORRIFIC SCENES OF MASS MURDER”

Unlike other nonprofits, Rebuild Ukraine uses its contacts in and around Ukraine and Lithuania to source supplies ranging from boots and neck warmers to thyroid medication in Eastern Europe. . This is rather than going through more expensive US manufacturing and shipping channels, where transportation to a war zone would be more difficult.

Gavrilyuk read harrowing accounts of towns like Bucha, northwest of kyiv, where Ukrainian investigators discovered 20 to 40 bodies at a time of executed residents. These are disturbing images, but his optimism for his homeland endures.

“The world has seen people being shot with their hands tied behind their backs and horrific scenes of mass murder of the civilian population,” Gavrilyuk said. “What the world didn’t see – and what the news reports didn’t focus on – was that Bucha was released. I could share a photo of a soldier wearing our protective boots and supplies.

For more information, visit rebuild-ua.org.