FEDERAL WAY, Wash. — Inside the First Ukrainian Baptist Church in Federal Way, hundreds of people prayed for peace on Sunday as fighting continued in the country most of them call home.
Russian troops move closer to Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv, a city of almost 3 million. Street fighting has broken out in Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, and strategic ports in the country's south have come under pressure from the invading forces.
"This touches every one of us," Pastor Aleksey Savolyuk said. "We have our relatives, our daughters, sons, our parents, everyone in this church does have people dear to our hearts still in Ukraine and we're coming together in prayer. We're also coming together in financial support of whatever we can do to help people displaced and in need."
Pastor Savolyuk moved to the United States as a teenager. Many of his loved ones are still in his home country, including Kyiv.
"I was born in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and when I see pictures of destruction, of my beautiful, peaceful city ... it breaks my heart," Savolyuk said. "We still have a lot of friends there who decided to stay in Kyiv and protect Kyiv and do whatever they can to help people, injured people, and people who don't have anywhere to run ... my city is Kyiv."
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine after denying for weeks that he intended to do so, all the while building up a force of almost 200,000 troops along the countries’ borders. He claims the West has failed to take seriously Russia’s security concerns about NATO, the Western military alliance that Ukraine aspires to join. But he has also expressed scorn about Ukraine’s right to exist as an independent state.
From thousands of miles away, Savolyuk says prayer is the best weapon many Ukrainians, He encourages non-Ukrainians to pray for the nation, too.
"For the war to stop," Savolyuk said. "For the Ukrainian forces as well. We encourage people to pray for displaced people and refugees."
Savolyuk said the spirit of Ukraine is built upon freedom, including religious freedom, which the church holds dear. On Sunday morning, his message from abroad to loved ones in Ukraine was simple.
"We love you, we pray for you, we're ready to help in whatever way possible we can, and we believe and hope Ukraine will persevere and that's what our prayer is," Savolyuk said.
The church is creating a foundation to help cover financial costs of displaced families and churches.