A local pastor has a twin brother fighting in Ukraine. He and others in northeastern Pennsylvania are gathering supplies, creating fundraisers—and praying.
Posted in , Mar 25, 2022
John Izak is a rescuer. An assistant fire chief in a Philadelphia suburb, he is trained to save people from harm. But when he heard the news that Russia invaded Ukraine, the birthplace of his parents and grandparents and where he still has family, he couldn’t jump into his firetruck and help those in distress. He knew what he could do: Pray. And he had to do it at St. Vladimir Ukrainian Catholic Church in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
That’s where his grandfather, Rev. Bodhan Izak, was the head pastor for 27 years. (In the Byzantine rite, priests can marry.) The last Sunday in February John drove two hours to attend services in the domed church founded by Ukrainian immigrants in 1908. He was compelled to attend the liturgy alongside the congregation’s faithful, including his many first cousins who live in the area. Pennsylvania is second only to New York in the number of people claiming Ukrainian ancestry. “I wanted to be with my cousins. We are all the kin of parents who were children who fled World War II. We would not be here had they not fled Ukraine. So we now look for God’s blessings and deliverance of Ukrainians in Europe,” he said. “God is a sovereign God. We trust in him. Goodness always, always prevails.”
Father Myron Myronyuk (pictured above with his twin brother and a church parishoner) arrived in the U.S. from Ukraine in 2007 and has led St. Vladimir’s parish since 2012. On February 24 his heart sank when he saw photos of the airport at Ivano-Frankivsk, the town where he attended seminary, destroyed. He said a friend who lives there texted him: “War has started.” He immediately opened the church, lit every candle and prayed for the Ukrainian people’s safety and resiliency. His prayers are doubled. Father Myron’s mother and sister are still in Ukraine. And so is his identical twin brother, Taras, who went from university professor and choir director to now fighting in Ukraine’s military. The brothers try to talk or message once a day.
“We don’t have time to cry. It’s the time to unite,” Father Myronyuk said. “We are all one family. We have to pray and help. When we pray we make a difference; we send grace. We ask God to help them.” He has channeled his worry into action by spearheading a drive for clothing, non-perishable food items and supplies for children in Ukraine. He knew that his small congregation of 50 would come through. But he didn’t expect the overwhelming support of so many—kids to senior citizens—who not only stopped by to donate items but helped form a bucket brigade of sorts. First, they assembled boxes of supplies, then passed them along to the church parking lot where rental trucks—donated by a local business—would take them to New Jersey, where they would be flown to Ukraine. Three tons of supplies were packed up in one day.
“They were strangers who came to help,” one parishioner said. They are not strangers anymore.
The church’s donation drive is ongoing. Father Myronyuk said his brother told him there is a desperate need for medical supplies. “The soldiers need gauze for bandages,” he said, his voice breaking a bit. “Each soldier needs their own first-aid kit but not everyone has one.”
DePietro’s Pharmacy, located in the nearby borough of Dunmore, is answering that call. They teamed up with one of their customers whose family lives in Ukraine; they are now asking for medical supply donations. Residents have given bottles of aspirin and Tylenol, antacids, bandages and more. “People come in for their prescriptions and then buy something to donate. Or they’ll just come in to drop off an item. It’s inspiring,”said Karissa Hausman, the pharmacy’s brand manager. News reports say clean water supplies are low so there is a request now for water-filtering tablets.
Popping up in the windows around town are bright yellow-and-blue signs that say “NEPA (Northeastern Pennsylvania) Stands With Ukraine.” The idea was created by NEPA Strong, a group that supports small local businesses. Universal Printing company in Dunmore printed the window clings available at places like coffee shops, appliance stores and fitness studios for a five-dollar donation that goes directly to St. Vladimir’s donations to Ukraine.
For their part, John Izak and his sister, Kristine, have created fundraisers, too. John designed T-shirts in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag that say “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the Heroes!” Kristine holds fundraisers at local dance studios to demonstrate the art of Ukrainian folk dance and area schools are organizing their own fundraisers.
Alex Groysman was just 10 when he arrived in Scranton as a refugee from Ukraine in 1991. He created the group “Scranton 4 Ukraine” and organized a candlelight vigil at the Lackawanna County courthouse square where 30 people showed up. “I’m usually not one to lead but I felt called to do this. To me this is just not about Ukraine. It’s about the principles of freedom and democracy,” he said. Alex also got the go-ahead for the group to march in the town’s long-running St. Patrick’s Day Parade. A runner, Alex dressed in blue and yellow and carrying a full-size Ukrainian flag took part in the pre-parade road race. Marching later with the group he was struck by the reaction of the crowds lining the streets: They stopped cheering and started applauding. “It was surreal. Just the amount of support we received was very humbling.”
What does the area’s support mean to Alex?
“It means that we are not alone in this fight,” he said.