Visit to Ukraine brings both sadness and hope
By Jim Dalrymple
COLORADO SPRINGS. The recent news from Ukraine would keep most travelers far from eastern Europe, but not Ken Rackers.
Rackers, who is vice present of the board of directors of Catholic Outreach to Northern Ukraine (CONU), visited the wartorn country last October to get a first-hand assessment of the situation and help get the word out regarding the plight of citizens there.
CONU was founded at Holy Apostles Parish in the mid-1990s to help the Catholic Church in Ukraine rebuild after decades of Soviet oppression.
Rackers was inspired to get involved with CONU after hearing the organization’s founder, the late Father Paul Wicker, speak at Our Lady of the Pines Parish in February 2018.
Since then, he has made several trips to Ukraine and maintains regular contact with Catholic entities there to learn about their needs.
Rackers landed in Krakow, Poland, on Oct. 2 and crossed into Ukraine on Oct. 3 to visit many people and places where CONU is refocusing its support to those in need. His stops included Yaslovets, Kamenetz-Podilskii, Sharovechka, Kyiv, Lubny, Sumi, and Lutsk. He returned to Krakov on Oct. 11. Plans to visit Kharkiv were interrupted by ongoing missile strikes.
On Oct. 6, 2022, Rackers met with EWTN staff in Kyiv regarding a documentary film being funded by CONU about the effects of the war with Russia on the Ukrainian people. Key project personnel include Father Olekeksandr Zelinski, the Director of EWTN in Ukraine; Vladimir Krachur, film director; and Artem Shemet, producer. This team is known for their inspirational work on the film “Believe,” a dramatic and historically accurate depiction of Soviet repression of people of faith under Josef Stalin. Those involved in producing the new film expressed great enthusiasm about the opportunity to tell the story of the ongoing tragedy in Ukraine to the world. The film is expected to be released this spring.
When asked why he chose to travel to Ukraine during such a tumultuous time, Rackers replied, “It’s been a great honor to be designated a Ukrainian Cossack, along with 20 members of the Ukrainian military. I feel the honor and duty to help the people of Ukraine in the defense of their nation and struggle to maintain independence.” On a previous trip, he received a designation as an honorary Ukrainian “Cossack,” a people known for their horsemanship and military skill.
CONU also continues to help fund the construction of the Saint John Paul Center for Seminary Studies and Laity Center. On Oct. 10, Rackers met with personnel at the site in Sharovechka to see first-hand the status of the project. The center is now focusing on medical treatment for military and disabled children. CONU is helping the local bishop and the diocese in their support of war victims and refugees, while continuing to build a national seminary which is 70% done but still requires about $2 million to finish.
“The suffering of the Ukrainian people is sad to observe,”
Rackers said after returning to the United States. “Although I strongly support the struggle of the Ukrainian nation, the destruction, and deaths and injuries on both sides are horrendous. The complete expulsion of the Russian military from Ukraine, particularly from the Crimean Peninsula, may be a challenge, but Ukraine is having significant military success. To a great degree, what they have achieved in the fight against Russia — maintaining Ukrainian independence — is already a significant achievement, and the Ukrainian people, despite hardship, are confident and resolute to continue to fight and win.”
For more information or to donate to CONU, visit www.conuhome.org.
(Jim Dalrymple is a member of the board of Catholic Outreach to Northern Ukraine.)