Posted July 17, 2023
by Eugene and Sherry Kubik
Sherry and I had the opportunity to celebrate our son Colin’s graduation from Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine on July 2. What makes this different and special, is that Ukraine is in the middle of a war with Russia.
Since there are currently no commercial flights into Ukraine, we flew into the closest city which is Warsaw, Poland from Spokane, Washington. Colin was able to meet us in Warsaw after a tedious 13-hour border crossing on a bus from Lviv. Normally a car ride from Lviv to Warsaw would take about 7 hours. He met us at the airport, and we went back to Lviv on a bus, and thankfully, we only had three hours on the border going back. One thing that stood out was that Colin and I were the only adult males on the bus. All the other adults were females.
Lviv, is a beautiful city in Western Ukraine with about 750,000 people. It has a lively town square built in the western European style with cobblestone streets and amazing architecture. It has many shops, restaurants, and fountains that are filled with music and people living day to day life. But there is an undercurrent of seriousness as the war rages on. Most of the population have family or friends who are on the front or who have died defending their country. Signs of war include a military presence around banks, military and civil institutions. Statues have either been removed to a safer place or have protective barriers build around them, stained-glass windows of the churches were boarded up to protect the beautiful work which are hundreds of years old, and sandbags around the basement windows of important buildings.
Graduation was a five-hour ceremony which was all in Ukrainian and included Mass in the campus’s Eastern Catholic church. It didn’t take long for me to wish I would have paid more attention to the Ukrainian language my parents spoke when I was little. Between Covid and the war, Colin and his classmates never had a full year of in person class. These students have a lot to be proud of. There was also a sense of great pride as an alumni soldier spoke about the men and women that were putting their lives on the line for a bigger cause the country they love.
We loved being able to see how the people in Lviv live. Our Air B&B was on the fourth and top floor of a complex of other apartments surrounding a beautiful courtyard. Sherry had asked our host where the nearest bunkers were if air ride sirens were to go off. The nearest bunker turned out to be in the courtyard. When Sherry peeked in one, it was dark and musty with some chairs. Not an ideal situation but it would be relatively safe. We went to bed every night wondering if we would wake to sirens, and fortunately did not. Three days after we left Ukraine, missiles shot from ships in the Black Sea hit an apartment across from the university and killed 10 people.
The second half of our trip involved exploring Warsaw since we had to fly in and out of there. We were able to take a three-hour bike tour of Warsaw with an English-speaking guide. It was fascinating to learn more of Polish history, and one thing the guide mentioned was how tourism in Warsaw has declined because of the war in Ukraine. We also went to the Warsaw Rising Museum and the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. It is sobering to see the impact of war on people and nations and the resolve of people to make it through tough times. Something that stood out to us was a story of a 15-year-old boy wanting to go fight in the Warsaw resistance army and his mom not wanting him to go. But his dad was saying it’s noble to go but just don’t die doing something stupid. It’s ok to die nobly but not stupidly. It made an impact because in our culture it’s so normal to say be safe and stay safe, etc. But what if we were to say be courageous, be bold, stand up for what you believe in?
We also saw that there is always hope in times of trouble. A beautiful note was written to Colin from Dr. Pasichnyk from the Revival Center of Rehabilition congratulating him on his accomplishment. Dr. P with the assistance of LifeNets, has done a great deal to serve the Ukrainian people during this difficult time in the nation. It is in difficult times, that people rise to the occasion and do the difficult work.
The two most common things we hear in regards to Colin going to school in Ukraine this least year are, “Why would Colin, as an American study in Ukraine?’ And second, “Why would his parents come to visit graduation during the war?” We find the answer is in the heart. Colin has a great love for the Ukrainian people and has a strong draw to the country where his grandparents were born. He has spent some or all of the last 11 years there and feels his heart is there. And as parents who love their son, we couldn’t let fear rule our lives. We can’t live in fear of what might happen. Yes, it was concerning going, yes, there were close family that were not happy that we were going, yes there were people that admitted, “if you die there, I’m going to be so mad at you.” But we know Jesus knows our days and our lives are in His hands. We need to trust that he will lead and then walk where he leads.