Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is affecting citizens in many nations, including two Academy of the Holy Angels students who recognize that peace cannot wait. Nicole Yakubov and Alexis Mysliwiec, founders of AHA’s Slavic-Baltic Cultural Society, stepped up during International Week (February 28 through March 4), leading the school community in moving prayers for peace that were delivered in Ukrainian and English.
“I am Ukrainian and Alexis is Polish, so we are both deeply connected to the current tragedy,” Yakubov explained. Yakubov supplemented the call for prayers for peace with an email that details how individuals can take action against the war, such as using social media to share information and demonstrate solidarity. Recommendations also include attending a peaceful rally, contacting New Jersey’s senators, and signing petitions.
“Ukraine is my second home,” Yakubov said. “It is a land I love with people I love and with culture I love. I am a first-born American from parents from Ukraine so I am deeply connected with my Ukrainian identity. This past week has felt like the longest, most paralyzing period in my life. My family and I are in a state of immense shock and worry. Before COVID, I went to Ukraine almost every summer.”
Currently, Yakubov has more family members in Ukraine than in the United States. Her immediate family is from Chernivsti, and her many friends live throughout Ukraine.
Although she said the February 24 invasion initially left her feeling insignificant and paralyzed, Yakubov soon gathered her strength. She began by contacting her family members and friends in Ukraine and posting information and resources on social media.
“It was very hard to work, do homework, and respond to my friends' proposals for weekend plans. Everything that seemed so crucial and important to me in my secular life was not so important to me anymore,” Yakubov noted.
“Alexis and I, being the leaders of Slavic-Baltic Cultural Society at AHA, decided that (the morning prayer outreach) was a great way to truly touch the school community through the lens of faith. The prayer I said in Ukrainian was the National Hymn of Ukraine. It is a very powerful and meaningful prayer for all Ukrainians as the struggle for independence has not yet ceased. Most importantly, the prayers gave a sense of solidarity that restored my faith and hope regarding the situation. When my friends and family in Ukraine saw the video of me announcing the prayer, they were so touched and grateful. They were so comforted that Americans are truly acknowledging their strife. Even though we are far overseas, the power of prayer carried that impact in volumes. And that, to me, is the reason I am continuing to be a voice for my home, Ukraine, now, then, and forever.”
In her letter to the AHA community, Yakubov wrote, “Vladimir Putin launched a full scale invasion into Ukraine… As a result of this occupation of the once calm areas, almost 500,000 Ukrainians, native and those from other diasporas, have fled their homes with most taking nothing but a suitcase…As we resume our studies this morning, continuing on with our American lives, remember that most Ukrainian children are now in foreign countries, bomb shelters, dirty bunkers, and cut (off) from school indefinitely. No one, no child, deserves to witness war right in front of their eyes, not here, there, now, or ever… Remember, every Ukrainian is currently fighting for all of humanity, not just their own sovereignty.”
Mysliwiec has friends at the border with Ukraine who are helping thousands of mothers and children.
“(T)he thought of this war spreading to Poland breaks me,” she added. “The majority of my family would be stuck there, helpless, along with the thousands of Ukrainian families that have escaped there. It is beyond scary…My goal is to use my club as a source to connect students and further educate the girls through fundraising and especially through International Night (March 4).”
Proceeds from this year’s International Night will benefit the Red Cross International’s work in Ukraine. International Night, which has been expanded into a week-long event, is an annual celebration of the AHA community’s many cultures.
“We plan to have dress-downs in the following weeks to also educate other students (who are) not in the club,” Mysliwiec continued. “We try our best to show solidarity and spread awareness with our bulletins and announcements. As students, that is the most important and most influential thing we can do: educate, educate, educate. We cannot be ignorant in thinking this doesn't affect us if we are not Ukrainian.”