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New Haven priest calls on U.S. to support Ukraine after humanitarian mission

Maksym Levus, age 3, perches above a crowd of Ukrainian Americans at a recent rally in support of Ukraine in New Haven, Connecticut.
Tyler Russell
Connecticut Public
Maksym Levus, 3, perches above a crowd of Ukrainian Americans at a recent rally in support of Ukraine in New Haven, Connecticut.

Father Jordan Lenaghan, alongside a group of New Haven-based priests, recently returned from a 10-day humanitarian mission to Ukraine. The executive director of the Office of Religious Life at Quinnipiac University said this wasn’t his first trip to Eastern Europe, but it’s one that will stick with him forever.

The group went to aid during the crisis by providing extra hands on the ground. Now Lenaghan’s goal is to educate Connecticut residents about the reality in Ukraine and advocate for the people he met during his mission.

“The issue was academic when I went into the country but was personal when I left,” Lenaghan said.

For a couple of days, Lenaghan stayed in Lviv, the largest western Ukrainian city just about 40 miles from the Poland border. He watched as hundreds of families from other parts of the country made their way to Lviv to either leave the country as a whole or find refuge in a city that had largely been spared by Russian attack until now.

At first glance, life went on. He said stores were open, the post office was still delivering packages and people were finding ways to remain positive.

But below the surface, fear was intensifying, he said.

As he talked with officials and residents trying to find safety, Lenaghan said people were worried about the future. “As they make their way towards the West it becomes a question of what do you do when you have one little suitcase and knapsacks on your children? Where do you feed them? What do you feed them? How do you feed yourself? How do you maintain basic hygiene?” Lenaghan said.

He said the majority of the people he met were women and children trying to escape the Russian threat. While some wanted to join the millions of people who had crossed over to other countries – even if just temporarily – he said many didn’t want to leave Ukraine.

“The significantly more impactful humanitarian crisis situation is taking place within Ukraine with those that have been internally displaced but have no intention of moving to the West,” he said.

Lenaghan said officials at one organization helping displaced families said only about 5% of people there wanted to move on to other countries.

He points to the community’s high sense of patriotism as one reason that people may have wanted to stay. He said people wanted to fight for their country. Or at least remain hopeful.

“Every person that we spoke to formally said to us at one point that they did not expect to survive but that they were going to fight until the end,” Lenaghan said.

But to do that, Ukraine needs support, Lenaghan added. People in Connecticut can make an impact, he said.

“People in the centers are making do with very, very little. All of us in Connecticut need to acknowledge the privileged place we are in. The privilege of this nation and democracy created for us an indebtedness to help out those in need,” he said.

Lenaghan said donations and calling on U.S. legislators to pass more aid are a must. But the No. 1 message people wanted him to relay to Americans: Close the skies.

“They said they can fight on the ground, but they can’t fight against the Russian air force.”

Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.

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