Manna interview: A uniting faith

7th April 2022

Andrew Avramenko and family with supporting Ukraine banners

Andrew Avramenko, a curate at St Stephen's & St Mary's, Bath who has Ukrainian connections, reflects on the importance of hope in challenging times.

What is your connection to the Ukraine?

My father is Ukrainian. His parents survived the Holomodor, a force famine in the 1930s by Stalin that was aimed at wiping out Ukrainian identity - over 7 million died. They escaped from Stalin's forces and from the Nazis when my father was a young child.  Together they travelled across Europe on foot before being welcomed as refugees into the UK. I also have connections with both the Anglican and Orthodox Ukrainian churches.

Is faith important Ukrainians?

Faith is very much part of the Ukrainian identity and their way of living. There have been lots of videos and photos on social media of people praying and holding services in underground shelters, in underpasses and even in front of a church while warning sirens sound. Ukrainians are asking for prayers, not just for themselves but also for Russians, and have been deeply touched and encouraged by them.

How does faith support in challenging times?

Faith is a very active thing that strengthens us, unites us and calls us to a better way, a peaceful way, out of this. It helps us to see people as human rather than a label, even our enemies. It unites us with people around the world, bringing us together in such a way that we couldn’t do in many other ways. To know that so many people right this very second are praying, or prayerfully acting in practical ways to help others, encourages me to do likewise.

How does conflict affect your faith?

For me it is not something that weakens me, if anything it strengthens my faith. I actually came to faith in part due to the last war in Europe, in Yugoslavia, and took aid to refugees left to fend for themselves. Although we may feel powerless, we do have the power to act; just as we have the power to do evil, we have the chance to do good and replace hate with love. We have abilities, and faith speaks in to how we choose to use them, for example to draw us and others away from evil and towards peace, and to encourage and enable healing and reconciliation.

What's been happening... (an upate from Andrew 8 April 2022, six weeks into the conflict)

I've been encouraged by the amount of people offering up their homes for Ukrainian refugees, and increasingly frustrated with the limited Government response to allow people in to take up those offers of accommodation (3% of applicants have been allowed in, 71% are still waiting, many have had to give up).  We have heard a lot over the last decade of the UK creating and being a 'hostile environment' for refugees, but the response shows that there is a lot of compassion for refugees and not just Ukrainian refugees - I have been encouraged how many people have questioned our response to other places people are seeking refuge and asylum from.

I've been seeking to help educate and encourage people, both in understanding both the current war and the history behind it.  I've been linking people up with resources to empower them to help those Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in the UK and those who are hoping to come.

Easter 2022

One thing people might like to do to stand in solidarity with Ukraine this Easter is to make a Paska.  It is a special sweet bread Ukrainians make to celebrate Jesus's resurrection.    

It has a lovely texture thanks to the presence of mashed potato in the dough!  I have made it and used it in services on Easter Day for many years, and it's always proved very popular. Using the ingredients, particularly the flour, reminds me of the vast plains of wheat Ukraine is famous for (that's what the yellow of the flag represents, with the blue being the sky) and Psalm 126, a Psalm which reminds me that even in the darkest of times we can still reap blessings and joy.

"Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them" (Psalm 126:6). I pray that will be so this year.

A sample of this interview first appeared in the April 2022 issue of the Manna mailing which you can download here.

During Holy Week, on Wednesday 13 April you are invited to join the online ‘Vigil with Prayers for Peace in Ukraine’ at 5pm. It will be led by Bishop Robert Innes, Bishop in Europe. Join via YouTube or Zoom