Guest column from WC grad, Quaker: Keeping faith and preserving life in war-torn Kyiv


Anna Belokur - Guest columnist



Kyiv’s Quaker meeting has been gathering online and in-person near Pechersk Lavra, a thousand year-old monastery — the “spiritual heart of Ukraine.”


Anna Belokur photo

On February 17, amidst rumors that Russia was about to launch an invasion, the Quakers of Kyiv, Ukraine penned a letter to the American Friends Service Committee. In it, the group unanimously stated: “There is no one among us who would see war as the answer, or believe that violence is the way out.”

Seven days later, Russia invaded Ukraine and initiated one of the bloodiest conflicts in recent European history.

When I set out to write this article, I had several motives. First and foremost, I wanted to share a story that was true and topical.

As a former resident of Wilmington, I wanted to find an angle that connected local history with current events. And, coming from a Quaker background myself, I wanted to examine a question that I grapple with daily: What does it mean to be a pacifist at a time like this, when there’s no clear path to peace?

With these goals in mind, I sat down with a member of Kyiv’s Quaker meeting, who agreed to discuss their experiences and thoughts with me. Their answers to my questions were sometimes heartbreaking, but ultimately serve as proof that light and hope can still be found in the darkest of times.

Kyiv’s meeting is relatively new — since 2019, a small group has been gathering online and in-person near Pechersk Lavra, a thousand year-old monastery that is often referred to as the “spiritual heart of Ukraine.”

Although the members of the group came from a wide range of religious backgrounds, they describe themselves as an “unofficial group of seekers of peace, truth, equality, and love, united in the Quaker prayer tradition.”

In the weeks and months following the start of the war, the group has received an outpouring of support from the global Quaker community. Their Facebook page grew from 20 followers to nearly 2000 in a matter of weeks, while thousands of Friends from all over the world sent messages of solidarity.

The member I spoke with described it as “a cocktail of love and support, a wave of love.” They went on to say, “And I can say it works, really. We have so many miracles, when bombs land but don’t explode — it’s God’s light.”

Along with the messages of support offered by Friends around the world, there has been a push to grant the group international membership to the Friends Worldwide Committee for Consultation.

For now, though, the Kyiv Quakers’ answer is simple: “We can discuss it after our victory. When we defeat this evil, this darkness, then we can discuss the details of membership.”

In speaking with this member, I asked what it means to be a pacifist during this time. They responded: “Pacifism means finding the way to be most useful in preserving life. We must ask ourselves what we can do in this horrible time for people, for the soul, for children, for animals, for life.”

The Russian government has spent the last month engaged not only in a violent military conflict in Ukraine, but in a propaganda campaign at home. Independent media outlets have been shuttered and social media sites like Facebook and Instagram have been banned, leaving only state-sponsored messaging on air.

Any public display of dissent can lead to lengthy imprisonment. The Kremlin’s narrative claims that Ukraine is overrun with Nazis and fascists, and that the Russian military is liberating Ukraine from its oppressors.

In the face of such violence and disinformation, the Quakers of Kyiv hold fast to their belief that peace must prevail for all.

“Frankly, it’s hard to love your enemies. And it’s hard to love your enemies when they lie, but we try to do it. Because we know that when the time comes and the light of God shines over the Russian Federation, so too will we live in peace.”

Anna Belokur is a 2018 graduate of Wilmington College. A translator and journalist specializing in the former Soviet Union, she currently works for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2022/04/web1_Anna-Belokur-headshot.jpg

Kyiv’s Quaker meeting has been gathering online and in-person near Pechersk Lavra, a thousand year-old monastery — the “spiritual heart of Ukraine.”
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2022/04/web1_Pechersk-Lavra-2.jpgKyiv’s Quaker meeting has been gathering online and in-person near Pechersk Lavra, a thousand year-old monastery — the “spiritual heart of Ukraine.” Anna Belokur photo

Anna Belokur

Guest columnist