Newly arrived Ukrainians celebrate Christmas and pray for their war-torn country. “It’s always on our minds.”


According to Ukrainian tradition, the first star in the sky on Christmas Eve signifies the birth of Christ.

Believers peer out of windows throughout the night hoping to catch a glimpse of the heavenly sign of the Nativity that follows a day of fasting, prayer and worship. Only then can elaborate holiday dinners, caroling and other festivities begin.

After fleeing their war-torn Ukrainian home, the Maricott family planned to perform these ancient customs this weekend for their first Christmas in the Chicago area.

Gathering with fellow parishioners at St. Andrew’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral on the western outskirts of Bloomingdale on Friday, they prayed for peace and autonomy in their homeland. Russian invasion Entering the 12th month.

According to the Julian calendar, Saint Andrew celebrates Christmas on January 7th. This is about two weeks after his December 25th observed by much of Western Christianity.

For centuries, Ukrainian Orthodox Christians, along with millions of Russian, Ethiopian, Serb and other ethnic Christians, have celebrated Christmas on this day.But Custom may be fluid War in Ukraine: The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has given individual churches the option to observe the holiday on December 25th or January 7th this holiday season. Some keep traditional calendars. Others chose to celebrate Christmas on both days.

Reverend Yaroslav Maricot (left) conducts an Orthodox Christmas Eve service at the St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Bloomingdale, Friday, January 6, 2023.  Arrive in Chicagoland by summer 2022.

At St. Andrew’s, several stately Christmas trees adorned the cathedral, each decorated with dozens of handmade Ukrainian ornaments. Near the entrance, a nursery with baby Jesus in a manger and a nativity scene around it, just a few feet from a sign holding a fundraising thermometer, and a parish donation to Ukraine was tracking.

Church officials estimate that about 250 newly arrived Ukrainians have begun worship at St. Andrew’s since the Russian invasion began about a year ago.

Through a translator, the priest, his wife, and two adult daughters, Marykot, said they were grateful to spend Christmas together in a peaceful and safe United States.

After the Christmas Eve service on Friday night, they would return to the Schaumburg house for the Sviata Vecheria (Holy Supper), a traditional 12-course vegetarian meal. Dishes include kutia, a sweet wheat kernel pudding, and Ukrainian dumplings called vareniki, which are similar to pierogis.

After dinner, the family sings Ukrainian Christmas carols. For example, “Boh Predvicnyj” which means Eternal God.

On Christmas Day they intended to worship at St Andrew’s in the morning, then have a potluck lunch there, and then carol.

Reverend Yaroslav Maricot, Reverend St Andrew, said: “And we pray to God that next Christmas we already have a restful Christmas.”

His 18-year-old daughter, Irina, remembered being awakened on February 24 by the sound of explosions as Russia launched a full-scale invasion of her homeland by land, air and sea.

The explosion rocked an airport less than a mile from her university in Ivano-Frankisk in western Ukraine. Early in the morning, she and her roommate frantically began packing as many belongings as they could into their suitcases. They lived on her 5th floor and were afraid to use the elevator in the event of a power outage and could become trapped inside.

Irina left for her hometown of Sunyatin, near the Romanian border. There, her mother Hannah and her 20-year-old sister Sophia were also packing her things to escape.

That day, the mother and daughter drove to Romania, about 60 miles away. However, it took two days to move because of traffic jams with other evacuees.

“Traffic was huge,” said Hannah. “Even for that short distance, it would come to a complete stop.”

From left, Hannah Maricot and her daughters Sophia, 20, and Irina, 18, hold the cross during an Orthodox Christmas Eve service at St. Andrew's Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Bloomingdale on January 6, 2023. signing.

Yaroslav was already in the United States. He had been in the western suburbs on a religious worker’s visa for about five years, and had been unsuccessful in trying to bring his family here.

From thousands of miles away, the father was in constant FaceTime contact with his wife and daughters, trying to get them out of the country with as much information as he could glean from news sources.

The mother drove in terror as explosions and blast waves hit the terrain around her.

“I couldn’t help it,” said Hannah. “My children are my greatest love and property. I had no choice.”

Low-flying helicopters circled overhead, but it was impossible to tell whether Ukrainian or Russian troops were on board.

As the women crossed the border, volunteers provided them with food, recommended accommodations and prepaid phone cards to keep in touch with their loved ones back home. Even after they left Ukraine and were safe, Sophia was haunted by her nightmares, she recalled. She said that Irina could not sleep for several days.

“Even when I stopped driving, I couldn’t sleep for the first few days after crossing the border. We didn’t know where we were going. We didn’t know what was going to happen next. Sleep because of the uncertainty I couldn’t.”

Mother and daughter then traveled by car to Italy, where they lived for about three months. In May they made a perilous journey back to their home in Ukraine. They left under coercion on the first day of the attack, only to submit a form to come to the United States through United Ukraine, a program of the Biden administration that allows Ukrainians fleeing the war to enter Ukraine. I had to retrieve various documents and medical records. Stayed in the US for 2 years with a private sponsor.

They were afraid to go back.

“But I knew with God’s help we would be okay,” said Hannah, who at that point knew better about Russia’s strategy and common military goals and planned a safe route out of Ukraine. He added that he had

They remained in Ukraine for a nerve-wracking six weeks, among intermittent air raid sirens and explosion blasts. After being approved for entry into the United States, they traveled to Poland. On July 15, they traveled straight from Krakow to Chicago, eventually reuniting with Jaroslav.

Marykots said their reunion was a bright spot amid the tragedy and trauma of war.

“I’ve been here for five years with my spiritual family, but I’m not here with my whole family, and there were lonely times when I missed my family,” Yaroslav said. It’s the beauty of how America has given us, my family, a way to reunite, and there are happy moments in being able to bring our families together in America despite the war.”

Reverend Jaroslav Marikot, second from left, with his wife Hannah (right), daughters Sophia, 20, and daughters Irina, 18, at Reverend Viktor Polyarny (left) after an Orthodox Christmas Eve service. You are welcomed.  At the St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Bloomingdale on January 6, 2023.

Marykots has a third daughter, Viktoria, 25, who lives in Poland. She plans to come to the US later this month to live with her parents and her sister in Schaumburg.

“That completes the family,” said Yaroslav.

The stress and anxiety of war have faded in recent months, but Iryna can still recall the fear of escaping.

“We’re safe here, but every time we have to go back to the visions and the sounds and everything…you go right back to those moments,” she said. So every time I think about it or talk about it, it comes back over and over again in my head.”

They live in constant fear of their relatives and friends in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a unilateral 36 hour truce Over the Christmas holidays, Kyiv rejected a ceasefire and Western officials expressed distrust of Putin’s intentions.

“We, as a family, do not stop thinking about what is happening there,” said Yaroslav. “So we have the stress of worrying about what is happening in Ukraine. We are always thinking about how we can help and what we can do to help in Ukraine.”

For mothers and daughters, the war instantly disrupted their lives. Hannah worked as a lawyer in Ukraine. Sophia and Irina attended college there.

“Each of us had a plan and a purpose in Ukraine,” said Hannah. “And in an instant everything was completely changed and taken away.”

They are taking English classes now. Hannah found a job helping a Ukrainian lawyer. Her daughters enrolled in classes at Harper College. They try to update their courses in Ukraine online at the same time, but that proves difficult: classes are in the middle of the night because of the time difference, air raid sirens sound, and classes are interrupted when they are needed. It often happens. Evacuate to the basement.

“We are now living for the future, we are not sad about that,” said Yaroslav. “We are moving forward as a family.”

After the Russian invasion, St. Andrew quickly rallied to raise funds to aid Ukraine, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds and supplies, including medical equipment, thermal socks, and bulletproof vests. Recently, the church donated 100 of his diesel heaters to warm Ukrainian troops in foxholes. The heater is expected to arrive in Kyiv in the near future, said parish council president John Jalesko.

According to Jaresko, since the Russian invasion in February, the parish has seen three and four generations of Ukrainians looking for ways to help their ancestral homeland and rediscover their traditions. are coming back to attend.

“The war brought back a lot of people who had already assimilated into American life but who realized they were of Ukrainian descent,” he said. “They looked for Ukrainian roots, Ukrainian churches, Ukrainian families to make donations and support Ukraine. came influx — they don’t speak Ukrainian, but they said, “I know my baba[grandmother]is Ukrainian,” and now they ask, “What can I do?” I’m here. Would you like help? ‘”

The war also spurred a growing international recognition of Ukraine’s sovereignty, he added.

“Now the world understands that thanks to this war there is a country called Ukraine. It’s what people have been striving for, fighting for, and risking their lives for, and suddenly, despite the great tragedy, it’s here.”


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Written by Natalia Chi

Chicago Popular; Chicago breaking news, weather and live video. Covering local politics, health, traffic and sports for Chicago, the suburbs and northwest Indiana.

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