“Ukraine has a very long, rich history, a rich cultural heritage, and very rich, religious traditions that we’re all very proud of. This... is an assault on all those things.”
The Rev. James Morris Jr., pastor at the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church on Bridge Street in Salem, was watching news of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine from a train in Pennsylvania Thursday as he returned from a trip out of the area. He had just learned that Russian forces were moving in on the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear disaster site, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy saying on Twitter that an attack on Chernobyl constitutes “a declaration of war against the whole of Europe.”
But that paled in comparison to the shelling taking place throughout Ukraine Wednesday into Thursday as Russian military moved into the country from three sides — effectively every angle but the far-western border shared with Poland, Slovakia and the rest of Europe.
“We’re just reading about it this week as it goes on,” Morris said. “Our main concern is for the people of Ukraine, and especially for family and friends that many of our parishioners have there.”
Europe faces global war
To Kanishkan Sathasivam, a professor of politics, policy and international relations at Salem State University, the world changed Thursday. That has however happened before, as the academic with a career-long passion for international rivalries explained.
“I’m actually much more focused on the emerging U.S.-China rivalry, which I think is going to be governing global politics in the next 30, 40 years,” Sathasivam said. “Europe has been on the back burner for the last 20 years, but all that is going to change today. We’re back to a Cold War-like world in Europe.”
Europe was also in that Cold War-like state in the events leading up to both world wars in the 20th century. Russia’s signing of treaties leading up to the attacks this week mirrored treaties signed between powers in the decade running up to World War II, he cited as one example.
“As a student in history, I’ve never closed the door — sadly — to a World War II-style war happening again in the future,” he said. “Far too many people think that can never happen, but that’s exactly what they said at the turn of the century, that that kind of war would never happen. Then, we had World War I.”
The timing of the attacks this week is precarious, Sathasivam suggested. It happens as the global economy continues to reel from the COVID-19 pandemic, and as multiple international conflicts remain tense.
It’s all too much happening at once, according to Sathasivam.
“The logical thing would be for the Chinese and Iranians, and even the North Koreans, to coordinate with the Russians and try to take some of these actions at the same time,” Sathasivam said, in part referencing China’s interest in Taiwan. “Right now, the United States would be hard-pressed to deal with even one of these situations... let alone two, or three, or four of them all at the same time.”
Sathasivam called for the United States to get involved, but not with sanctions that leave no visible impact and are considered a weak response to other nations, he argued. Involvement begins with a sharp boost in defense spending, which he admitted would come at the behest of infrastructure needs, environmental issues, and more: “We’re going to go back to defense budgets like what we had in the 1980s,” he said.
“The Army was cut by more than 60% from the end of the Cold War to where it’s at now. and on top of that, we’ve had a mindset in the last 20 years that’s about counterterrorism or counterinsurgency, not about fighting a conventional war against another country that’s equal to us,” Sathasivam said. “All of that has to change, and it needs to change very fast.”
Americans also need to read up on the situation, Sathasivam argued. He explained that interest in the situation has only recently emerged on campus.
“This semester, all of the sudden, they’re interested — and the students are very interested in this extreme situation, because nobody told them anything,” he said. “For the ordinary, average American, it’s going to be slow. It’s going to be a slow learning process right now to relearn to appreciate international issues and global issues, and threats, and problems.”
Morris: Ukrainians need allies
It’s one thing to read up. It’s another to respond.
A history of the St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church on the parish’s website demonstrates a century of Ukrainian immigrants escaping conflict, beginning with the church’s formation in 1918 — the literal end to World War I.
“Today St. Johns Ukrainian Catholic Church is a small, closely knit parish family,” the site reads. “There are recent immigrants from Ukraine, those who arrived in the U.S. after World War II, as well as American born with Ukrainian ancestry.”
The Bridge Street parish has a small community backing it. There are fewer than 100 members, Morris said, “and we have a few families who are recent immigrants within the last 15, 20 years. Then we have a few of our elder parishioners, who came here after World War II.”
The parish has been working with from two larger Ukrainian church communities in Jamaica Plain that also have deeper-reaching resources, according to Morris. That includes the Christ the King Ukrainian Catholic Church and the St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
“We’re looking to them for a lot of the information about what the Ukrainian community at-large is doing,” Morris said.
There are currently no efforts to evacuate families with local ties from Ukraine, Morris explained, but he said that may not last long “depending on how bad this gets.”
In the meantime, those looking to support their Ukrainian neighbors need to just be present, listen, learn, and most importantly pray, Morris said.
“Being informed, and being interested in the real history of Ukraine... their openness to knowing about Ukraine and its history is huge for us, as is of course their solidarity with us and their prayers,” Morris said. “That’s huge support.”