PHILADELPHIA (CNS) – Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is a powerful symbol of eternal values, said the head of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States.
“He represents those who are willing to give their lives for the truth, for God-given human dignity and for freedom,” said Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia in a statement shared with Catholic News Service Dec. 22.
Archbishop Gudziak joined a delegation of Ukrainian and Ukrainian American leaders at the U.S. Capitol for Zelenskyy’s Dec. 21 in-person evening address to Congress.
The group included Father Mark Morozowich, a Ukrainian Catholic priest who is dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington.
Zelenskyy’s speech capped a one-day visit to Washington. The journey was his first known venture outside of Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion Feb. 24.
In his 20-minute speech, which he delivered in English, Zelenskyy demonstrated “he stands with his people, and … in a particular way he wanted to thank Americans,” said Archbishop Gudziak. “He expressed the gratitude of Ukrainians in many forms and many ways.”
Since Feb. 24, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with approximately $21.3 billion in military aid, with another $1.85 billion — including Patriot missiles — announced Dec. 21 by the Biden administration.
With the Senate’s Dec. 22 passage of the latest government spending bill, U.S. aid to Ukraine since February is poised to top $100 billion.
Amid multiple standing ovations from lawmakers, Zelenskyy assured Congress that “Ukraine is alive and kicking” and that Ukraine, the U.S. and Europe shared in a “joint victory” of “(defeating) Russia in the battle for minds of the world.”
That battle “is not only for life, freedom, and security of Ukrainians or any other nation which Russia attempts to conquer,” said Zelenskyy. “This struggle will define in what world our children and grandchildren will live, and then their children and grandchildren. It will define whether it will be a democracy of Ukrainians and for Americans, for all.”
That stark assessment stands in contrast to a 21st-century worldview in which “we’ve deconstructed almost everything, when everything is up for grabs, when truth is transactional,” said Archbishop Gudziak. “The people of Ukraine are saying, ‘No, there is good and evil. There is truth, and there are lies, and we are willing to give our lives for that.'”
Zelenskyy presented Congress with a Ukrainian flag signed by troops in Bakhmut, where he made an unannounced visit Dec. 20. Located in Ukraine’s eastern region, the small city has seen some of the bloodiest battles of the war, which continues attacks Russia launched in 2014 with the attempted annexation of Crimea and the backing of separatist regions in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk provinces.
Since then, hundreds of thousands have been killed, including 14,000 between 2014 and 2022 alone, and an estimated 10,000 to 13,000 Ukrainian soldiers from Feb. 24 to the first week of December.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has recorded 6,755 civilians killed since Feb. 24. U.N. figures show the war has displaced approximately 13.7 million in total, 7.8 million across Europe and 5.9 million internally. Ukraine’s National Information Bureau reports some 11,500 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia.
Prosecutors in Ukraine are investigating at least 50,000 war crimes committed by Russian forces since February, including summary executions, torture, rape and castration. Relentless, direct attacks on civilian infrastructure by Russia have left millions of Ukrainians without access to electricity, heat and water.
Ukraine has filed an application with the International Court of Justice to charge Russia with committing genocide. The International Criminal Court is currently collecting evidence of potential crimes as well.
“Since the 17th century, Russia has been doing this to us,” said Ukrainian history expert Nicholas Rudnytzky, professor and dean of academic services at Manor College in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. “Every time Ukrainian nationalism grew enough, they attempted to knock it down.”
He stressed that “democracy has to be defended; otherwise, tyranny wins.”
Zelenskyy’s visit provided the U.S. with an essential reminder of that reality, said Archbishop Gudziak.
“I think we Americans need Ukraine,” he said. “We need the inspiration, we need the willingness to sacrifice, and we need to be a part of this defense of freedom and dignity in the face of absolute evil. I have no doubt that millions of Americans were inspired and understood better what they so generously support. And this support should continue.”