Long before they had a proper church, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community in central North Carolina came together in a horse barn on the outskirts of Garner to worship.
This continued until 2014, when county officials took note and forbade them to continue; the building had never been approved for religious assembly. They moved their altar to a borrowed funeral home in North Raleigh.
But the location was always secondary to the congregation, said church deacon Michael Sudik. “For a few hours each Sunday morning, it is as if we are back in Ukraine, speaking in Ukrainian, and reconnecting with our roots.”
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is the largest Eastern Catholic Church in the world, but only 9 percent of Ukrainians, primarily in Lviv and the West, are part of the faith. There are now about 50,000 Ukrainian Greek Catholics in the United States. When Garner’s congregation first came together, it drew about 60 families from across the Triangle and beyond, including from eastern North Carolina and southern Virginia.
Last week, the church received a certificate of occupancy for its new sanctuary on the site of the old horse barn. And on Easter, more than 200 congregants came together to christen Saint Sophia Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.
“I know when I celebrate the divine liturgy here in North Carolina, it is the same way my parents and grandparents celebrated the divine liturgy in Ukraine,” said parishioner Vera Lyktey. “It makes me feel closer to my ancestors.”
Attendance at Sunday services has been up since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February. “It is not just the people living in Ukraine who are under attack,” said Sudik. “For the Ukrainians living in North Carolina, it’s not as if we’re going to turn a corner and face a Russian shooting us on-site, but there is a deep angst.”
“The Ukrainian soldiers have said, ‘We feel your prayers from the other side of the world.’ And this is why we continue to pray,” said Lyktey. “The Ukrainian army has been outnumbered since the beginning, but we pray for a miracle.”
Julianna Lyktey, 23; Family roots are in Kyiv and Ternopil; Bandura, a traditional Ukrainian instrument
“I started learning to play the bandura when I was 2 years old. My grandfather, who was Ukrainian, was my teacher. The bandura is an instrument that has been beloved by Ukrainians for centuries. During the Soviet era, the playing of the bandura in public was banned in Ukraine. In fact, during this era, banduristas were forced into labor camps, so they could not play the national songs of Ukraine and other songs that were dear to them. Because of this, the instrument has become symbolic of all the hardship our country has gone through, and the perseverance of our people.”
Michael Lyktey, 53; Family roots are in Ternopil; Ukrainian schoolbook
“My father escaped from Ukraine after World War II. When I was a child in America, my father first helped me to learn the Ukrainian alphabet, and then he used this book to teach me how to read Ukrainian. Knowing the language like I do instilled me with a knowledge and love for Ukraine very early in my life. The book starts with a prayer and ends with the Ukrainian national anthem.”
Maura Sudik; Family roots are in the Subcarpathia region; Family Bible
“This Bible has been in our family for at least 120 years. My husband’s grandmother brought it to the United States when she came here from Ukraine. She was allowed to bring one wicker basket with all of her belongings, and she tucked this Bible inside. We keep it sealed in a case at home.”
Emma Nytka, 3; Wake Forest, North Carolina; Ukrainian storybook A Treasure Book of Learning Stories
“I read these stories with my mom every night before bed. My favorite one is about a rolling biscuit that meets a bunny. And I also like the one about princesses.”
Andrew Nytka, 9; Wake Forest, North Carolina; Rubik’s Cube
“When I think about what’s happening in Ukraine, it makes me feel worried. My grandma lives in Ukraine still. When I get real worried about her, sometimes I’ll work on my Rubik’s Cube. It helps me calm down. Even though I’ve done the Rubik’s Cube a hundred times, it’s so satisfying to hear the noise—the little clicks it makes as you work through the possibilities.”
Michael Sudik, 71; Family roots are in villages west of Lviv; Embroidered tablecloth
“My grandmother made this tablecloth for her dowry about 120 years ago. When she was betrothed to my grandfather, she was very poor. So my grandmother grew some flax, and then she borrowed a loom and made the material, and then she wove this tablecloth. The pattern is a typical Ukrainian pattern, but there is one little flower that is different from the rest. Because, as my grandmother said, only things in heaven are perfect. On Earth, we are trying to become perfect, but we never achieve it.”
Vera Lyktey, 53; Family roots are in Kyiv and Ivano-Frankivsk; Embroidered apron
“My grandmother embroidered this apron to represent the Poltava region of Ukraine, and I wore it as a little girl when I was part of the Ukrainian folk dance group. It is a great tradition of Ukraine to embroider, and I feel honored to have preserved some of the Ukrainian art through embroidery. My grandmother acquired the skills to embroider in Ukraine as part of a custom that is passed from generation to generation. Our culture has been kept alive by traditions such as this, and I can only hope that will continue to be true.”
Victoria Nytka, 32; From the Ivano-Frankivsk region; Hustka, a traditional Ukrainian head covering
“My grandfather is still in Ukraine. He’s in his 80s and he’s no longer able to walk. So he’s like a sitting duck, and that is very scary. At the beginning of the war, I was sad all the time. But now that we’re learning news about the terrible, terrible things the Russians have been doing in Ukraine, that feeling is turning more to anger. It’s mind-blowing that this is happening in our day and age. It makes me uncontrollably angry.”
Lioudmila Lukash, 52; From the Ivano-Frankivsk region; Photograph of grandmother
“My grandmother, Anna Savchuk, had a horrible life. It was during World War II, and she had just given birth to her third child—my mother—and then the Russian army captured my grandfather and put him into prison. The Russians said my grandfather was working for the German army, which was not the case. Later, when I was born, my mother would go to work in the city each morning as a bookkeeper. She would leave me with my grandmother in the village. My grandmother took care of me each day since I was 9 months old. She taught me everything: how to cook, how to bake, how to read, and how to write. My family has many strong women.”
Iryna Osadchuk, 76; From the Ivano-Frankivsk region; Prayer book
“Back home in Ukraine, the elderly women are making food each day to send to the soldiers. But here in America, there is nothing I can do to help the soldiers. So I pray. I pray every single day in the morning and every single day in the evening. I pray for our Ukrainian soldiers that we can have peace in the war. I pray so much right now that the pages of my prayer book tear. But it is okay. I glue them back together.”