I was privileged to be invited by Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski to offer a prayer of solidarity at the Ukrainian Cathedral this morning, a year since this phase of Putin’s assault so shockingly began. As Mayor Sadiq Kahn said, this is not the first anniversary of the war, but of the Western World waking up to horrors to which the people of Ukraine have been subject since 2014, and to the full significance of this war for truth, freedom and human dignity.
Many members of the Ukrainian community told me how deeply they felt supported by the UK and the Jewish community in particular. Worried about ‘news fatigue’ they asked that this should continue. I assured them that it most certainly would.
The Cathedral was decked with 461 paper angels, representing the Ukrainian children known to have been killed in the war. (Different faiths do things in different ways) There was a rolling screening of pictures of soldiers killed in the fighting, several of whom returned from Britain to defend their country. One feels, too, for the Russian conscripts and their families, young men sent to their deaths in a war they almost certainly don’t understand. It was hard to hold back tears.
It’s painful to say prayers like this on the eve of the Shabbat when we read in the Torah portion Terumah about the tabernacle, God’s sanctuary, which we strive to build so that God’s presence can dwell among us here on earth, and which symbolises a world at peace with a safe place within it for every faith, nation and person, and for all of nature too.
As Rabbi Tarfon said, we will surely not complete the work, but we are not free to desist from it. We need to muster all the solidarity, courage, compassion and creative imagination we collectively can, in the name of life and its blessings.
Prayer for Ukraine, 24 February 2023
‘Out of the depths, I call to you God.’ These Psalmist’s words cried out from the bones of my people at Babyn Yar, where the Nazis murdered tens of thousands of Jews, and which was bombed again last March. They spoke in my heart at Borodianka, by Bucha, by the burnt-out homes, by the charred statue of Taras Shevchenko, father of modern Ukrainian literature.
For the third time in a hundred years a tyrant is trying to annihilate Ukraine and subjugate its people.
This war is an assault on history and identity, truth and freedom, life and hope; a crime against humanity and nature.
The people of Ukraine couldn’t defend themselves against Stalin’s policy of mass starvation; millions of Jews were powerless before Hitler’s Einsatzgruppen.
But today, the President, Parliament, Army and Ukrainian people of all faiths stand united and courageous against tyranny.
In stalwart solidarity with them, we pray:
For Ukraine’s armed forces and those who support them: may you be resilient until victory and peace; may war’s cruelties not harden your hearts.
For everyone traumatised, tortured, raped, and stricken by the wounds and griefs of war: may the God of healing be with you.
For all Ukraine’s children, displaced internally and worldwide: may your families be reunited in a safe, democratic, intact and peaceful Ukraine.
For the ecologists investigating and striving to reverse the environmental devastation of battle.
For the broadcaster who dared to say on Russian television ‘you’re being lied to here,’ and all who seek and speak truth.
For the families of all those killed in this war.
From the depths of our hearts we call to you, God. May life, freedom, truth and peace speedily prevail.