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Lexington churches to host Ukraine vigil to 'pray for an end to the bloodshed'

Maryna Teplova family photo
Maryna Teplova, lower right, poses for a photo with her family and her cousin's family in Dnipro, Ukraine.

A group of churches in Lexington will host a prayer vigil Tuesday evening to show support for Ukraine, with those in attendance hearing from a Ukranian woman who's trying to get her family out of the war-torn country to join her in the United States.

Maryna Teplova is a doctoral student at Illinois State University. She teaches humanities at ISU and at Illinois Wesleyan University. Teplova left Ukraine four years ago, but much of her family remains there. She said it's hard to tell how safe they are in the east-central Ukrainian city of Dnipro, where Russian bombs have been falling in residential areas with increased frequency.

“When people ask me here am I safe, I sometimes catch myself. It seems like they are safe now, but who knows? You never know, because when Russian bombs fall, unfortunately, nobody can predict that,” Tepolva said in an interview with WGLT. Teplova said one recent bomb landed near where her daughter lives. Another landed near her cousin.

Teplova's daughter and 3-year old granddaughter fled Ukraine for the Netherlands shortly after the Russian invasion. They had to return to Ukraine to get a passport to fly to the U.S. Teplova and her husband are sponsoring them to come to the U.S. They plan to take a train to Warsaw, Poland, then fly to Chicago.

Teplova hopes they arrive this week because she said it's time for them to get out of Ukraine. “They have been there for three weeks and now these explosions started and they are very close to the area where my daughter lives,” Teplova said. “Now it’s very urgent for them to leave as fast as possible.”

Teplova still has extended family in Ukraine, including her 94-year old grandmother and a cousin wounded in the fighting.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has annexed large portions of eastern Ukraine even as his own military shows signs of retreat. Putin claims it's what the Ukranian people living in those territories want, citing supposedly overwhelming results from a referendum.

Teplova said those votes were a sham. “First of all, (the Russians) threatened people,” she said. “They used everything they could. They threatened to take people to Russia is they didn’t take part in the referendum.”

Ukraine responded to Russia's land grab by applying for a fast track to NATO membership. It's a process experts say could still take several years.

The U.S. has shown strong support of Ukraine, said Teplova, noting she sees it and hears it from her own students. “They all ask me questions about my family and about Ukraine and all of them vocally and actively support (Ukraine),” she said. “They say they just want to send me the message that they are praying for Ukraine. That’s so comforting and important for Ukranians to know.”

Teplova said she hopes NATO will strengthen the global alliance in support of Ukrainian democracy.

Teplova will touch on these themes at a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Lexington Community Center, sponsored by the Lexington Council of Churches.

“There’s very little the average person can do about the Russian invasion, but everyone can still pray for an end to the bloodshed,” Lois Daniel, council president, said in a news release.

Teplova said her message will be one of peace. She wants Ukraine to be left to its own independence with its own culture.

“People who support Ukraine and to do something strong to oppose Putin, because I think this is the only way to fight this tyrant, to fight this dictator,” she said. “Of course, he is not the only representative of evil. He is the main place of evil.”

Teplova said she also wants Ukraine to take back Crimea, a part of the country Russia annexed in 2014. She said Putin underestimated the resolve of the Ukranian people, adding it's sad many in Russia don't see it that way. Teplova said she has a cousin who lives in Moscow and has bought into the propaganda that Russia was somehow defending itself when it invaded its neighbor.

"During the first days of the war, I remember how he started writing to me that no, no, no, you don’t understand, this is not a war. They are not doing anything. It is your guys shooting your own citizens, Teplova said. “This is what they hear on TV and they believe it.”

Teplova said her cousin's brother had to stop communicating with him.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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