Mass went as it normally would on a Sunday. Reverend Valeriy Kandyuk read three passages of scripture, welcomed donations and gave out the Eucharist. But it was far from a typical day for his parishioners.
Transfiguration of our Lord in Sunnyside is the only Ukrainian church in Denver. The church, built in the 1950s, boasts a humble brick exterior with stained glass windows using the colors of the Ukrainian flag. The vestibule contains Christian literature in both English and Ukrainian.
And the pews are full with a mix of long-time attendees, recent immigrants and families. According to long-time parishioners, Sunday service has never been this crowded. As Russian forces stage an all-out attack on Kyiv, Kharkiv, Kherson and other cities, Colorado’s Ukrainian community is treating the church as a gathering point.
Taras Overchuk, who moved to Denver from Ukraine in 2012, said he’s not religious. He just wanted to meet with fellow countrymen.
“It’s like a place where I can meet Ukrainians and we can try to understand what to do next,” Overchuk said. “My personal thing, we need to kind of start finding contacts in Poland, Romania and Moldova and trying to arrange some additional lines of supply.”
But that still leaves loved ones trapped in harm’s way, and the uncertainty of war.
Overchuk’s mother is stuck in Ukraine along with both his wife’s parents.
“It’s pretty awful right now,” he said. “People are hiding in basements and wherever they can hide.”
Overchuk attended the service with his wife and their American-born 5-year-old daughter. He’s struggling to figure out how to explain the invasion to her.
“I just cannot understand how you can explain [the invasion] to a small child what’s going on,” he said. “But she’s a little bit frustrated by parents who are a little bit distracted.”
Many came to the church to pray for the continued resilience of their families and friends under siege. Oksana Yurynts arrived in Colorado just last year.
“We are praying for Ukraine, all the people who can do something, and the men who are in Ukraine, they go against Russian invaders,” Yurynts said. “I hope these people will stop this, but actually all the countries should understand that this war is against peaceful people.”
After the service, people congregated in the back of the church to eat pastries and sip coffee. Some were glued to their phones, trying to get updates on the safety of their contacts back home. Overchuk said he’s been trying to reach friends in Bucha, a city on the outskirts of Kyiv which Russian forces were supposed to occupy.
“We have friends who were hiding,” Overchuk said. “We had some contacts yesterday, but we lost them today.”
Lyrna Lubyanetska, a parishioner of over 20 years, said the church is happy to offer spiritual support to any Ukranian who needs it.
“The way how I grew up, we were always around church, but not everybody grew up like that,” Lubyanetska said. “But we’re always here and we’re always open to everybody from Ukraine or from any other country if they wanna come and pray. We are a community here as well, not just a church.”
Lubyanetska said she hopes the community can create positive energy out of the pain.
“We sad. We angry. We scared. But we want all of this energy go towards positive, towards God, and ask him to help us, because negative energy will support our enemies,” she said. “And that is not our goal.”
When asked about the message of Sunday’s mass, Fr. Kandyuk, who spoke in translation through Lubyanetska, said “We have to forgive everybody, how God forgives us for all of our sins.”