In weekly ritual of solidarity, Disciples of Christ gathers Chautauquans for Ukrainian anthem

Words, photos & video by Brett Phelps

It’s been one year, five months, three weeks, and five days since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Last year, when longtime Chautauquan Thaddeus Popovich, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, heard The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denominational house was installing a Ukrainian flag from its balcony, he seized the opportunity to become involved.

He suggested taking the simple gesture of displaying the flag and turning into a weekly ritual of solidarity.

“The war in Ukraine makes me feel awful about what’s happening there,” he said. “I feel helpless and hopeless at times. … I want to feel hopeful.”

Chautauquans gather to sing the Ukrainian National Anthem, in both English and Ukrainian, on July 21 outside of the Disciples of Christ denominational house on the Clark Brick Walk, as a way to demonstrate support for Ukraine while the war continues.

Popovich, who is of Serbian descent but part of the Ukrainian community in Pittsburgh, suggested the Disciples of Christ add yet another way to honor Ukrainians during this time of war. 

At his home church, St. Brendan’s Episcopal Church in Franklin Park, the congregation sings the Ukrainian National Anthem in both English and Ukrainian each week. Popovich proposed carrying over the tradition to the Chautauqua community.

Anna Wilson, a Chautauquan visiting from Kentucky, joins other community members in singing the Ukrainian National Anthem.

Because the Disciples of Christ already hosts weekly picnics, it was an easy integration, Popovich said, since he had the music MP3 files and sheet music on-hand.

“It is a very heartfelt experience, to honor a country who is suffering immensely by singing its national anthem in its own language. And we experienced that. We experienced that time and again when we sing it every Friday.”

The Ukrainian flag waves in the wind from the balcony of the Disciples of Christ Headquarters House at 32 Clark.

Popovich taught in Kosovo in former Yugoslavia after the Kosovo War, which took place from February 1998 to June 1999. After seeing and hearing from students how their lives and families were torn apart by the war, he understood what Ukrainians were facing.

“I heard about it and saw it firsthand,” he said. “Thus, my empathy for what’s going on in Ukraine right now.”

Popovich encouraged others to take a few minutes out of their afternoon “to show solidarity with our Ukrainian brothers and sisters” and join in at 7 p.m. tonight under the Ukrainian flag at the Disciples of Christ Headquarters House at 32 Clark.

“If you don’t think you can sing, just be with us. Presence is everything,” he said. “It’s a beautiful sight and sound to behold.”

Mariia Novoselia, from Odesa, Ukraine, left; and Kristian Yastrebova, from Kharkiv, Ukraine, lead Chautauquans in the singing of their country’s national anthem.

The author Brett Phelps

Brett Phelps is a visual journalist from Bardstown, Kentucky. Entering his junior year, Brett studies photojournalism, marketing, data analytics and computer information systems at Western Kentucky University. In his first summer at Chautauqua, Brett looks forward to soaking in all of the culture and knowledge that the season has to bring. In his downtime, he enjoys taking long drives through the country backroads (with the windows down), going on hikes, traveling to new destinations, attending concerts and playing the piano. Brett’s life endeavor: Capturing the celebration of life!