A Mother Supports Her Son in War

A letter sent to Music Mission Kiev (MMK) by a grateful Mother, Olga Alekseeva.

Thank you for your attention to my son Ivan, it is very meaningful and valuable to me. Ivan has a firm and clear civic position. Back in 2019-2021, he took my father to the shooting range organized by his fellow party members, and he took me to first aid courses. I was pleased with his perseverance, because it is better when a young guy is engaged in something socially useful than sitting in computer games. 

On February 24, 2022, on the third attempt, he got into the military commissariat – he was refused because he had no combat experience, poor eyesight (-5), and was not even on the military record.

Vanya was assigned to territorial defense. The first two months of the war in Kyiv were terrible – a curfew, shots were fired in the streets, rockets flew in Kyiv… while Vanya patrolled the city at a checkpoint. They lived in the gym on sports mats and sleeping bags – with whatever they had. 

In April 2022, they were transferred to the Chernobyl zone to dig dugouts and fortifications. They lived in abandoned houses. My friend, who has been living in America for more than 30 years, sent a sleeping bag and a thermal blanket. Vanya said that he is now so warm that he gave up the warm place by the stove to his friend.

Not long ago, Vanya wrote that his glasses broke. It is impossible to repair or buy new glasses in the forest. I mentioned this in Volodya’s office (MMK bookkeeper), and I was offered assistance for Ivan and his visually impaired colleagues. In response, MMK ordered glasses and lenses for 4 soldiers, one of whom was a chaplain. 

In April 2023, Ivan fell ill with Covid. I am grateful to God, the doctor was there and sent him to an infectious disease hospital, this was the next wave of the epidemic for soldiers. The military unit is a large gathering of people, leading to a very high chance of getting infected. I asked Serhiy if MMK could buy the medicine needed for viral infections for Ivan’s unit, because the small town they were stationed in, cannot cope with so many patients. Thank God, with the permission of the mission, we provided the military unit with the necessary medicines. 

In the past I was annoyed that Ivan spent a lot of time playing computer games, but now these skills have allowed him to control a drone. I am very proud of my son, but I am also worried for him. We had not seen each other in five months. What happiness when he stopped by home for two days recently, on the way for more training. Currently, he is studying for two weeks. Thank God I know he will be safe during this training time. 

I am very grateful to the MMK for the help it provides to our soldiers, wounded, affected refugees, for the monthly medicines for the soldiers in the hospital where I give massages, for the clothes that we provided two different times for the seriously wounded in the hospitals.

May the Lord bless everyone who helps and prays for the victory of Ukraine.



People Helping People: A Jeweler in Wartime

This article is from a post, called The Counteroffensive, written by Tim Mak. 

His blog “is a war correspondent’s open notebook, reporting live from Kyiv. Compelling human stories that illustrate what’s happening during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and elsewhere on the frontlines for democracy. Published twice a week.”

People Really Helping

This is a first person story of how Ukrainians are committed and innovative in their fight for freedom.  This drone building example is akin to the victory gardens that Americans and British families grew in WW II.  In this situation though, the home and war fronts are the same.  This story documents one family’s all in effort.

Honey, theres a Ukrainian Drone in the Kitchen  (by Tim Mak)

Violetta Oliinyk has spent much of her life making delicate pieces of art.

However, since the war started, she no longer perfects sophisticated jewelry.

Instead, Violetta now assembles drones for the Ukrainian army in her kitchen.

Violetta with some of her self-made drones.

At the beginning of this year, Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation urged Ukrainians to assemble drones at home to create a decentralized network of drone manufacturing.

In some ways, Ukrainian home drone production resembles the victory gardens of the British WWII home front, when people were told to ‘Dig for Victory’, and grow vegetables in their backyards to help the war effort.

There are some differences, of course, including the technological complexity: first-person view (FPV) drones are advanced devices, equipped with an onboard camera which livestreams the view from the aircraft to a pilot.

Homemade FPVs have become another line in the long list of items that thousands of Ukrainians are producing at home: from hand-made chemical heating pads for foot warmth, to camouflaged sniper coats, to 3D-printed mine detectors.

Decentralized production has its upsides. It protects manufacturers from the effects of regular Russian airstrikes, and trains a generation of drone engineers, who have the potential to scale up production on their own. However, there’s a downside: it can’t compete with the efficiency, or the low cost, of industrial manufacturing.

A Million Home-Grown “Victory” Drones

For Ukraine, this ambitious endeavor seems to be the only way to domestically produce a million drones, a goal announced by President Zelenskyy. That means it could well be the only way to ensure the nation’s survival in the war with the prevailing Russian army.

Initially deployed as a reconnaissance tool, FPV drones were swiftly enhanced to carry grenades, which turned them into a mobile and guided weapon.

Having dedicated most of her 28 years to mastering a diverse range of skills, from stained glass production to jewelry, Violetta never imagined herself assembling kamikaze drones until war broke out in her country.

A Family Fighting Together

The news of the Russian invasion reached Violetta on her way back from a brief tourist trip to Europe, where she was seeking distraction from pervasive speculation about the looming war. Returning home amid the uncertainty of those initial days, Violetta faced another, personal challenge – her father and two brothers decided to join the Ukrainian army.

It wasn’t the first time she’d faced the realities of war. Her family previously fought against Russians following incursions in 2014. Violetta transformed her experience on awaiting their return from the battlefield into an art performance: ‘Brothers,’ held in Poland.

“I’ve always believed in the profound impact of art on viewers’ consciousness. However, I’ve been somewhat disappointed by art’s limited abilities to support the army… Assembling drones or making trench candles seems far more effective than holding exhibitions in art galleries,” Violetta told The Counteroffensive.

Drone manufacturing found Violetta unexpectedly. In November 2023, Violetta’s family on the frontlines sent her an order to purchase one – and meticulous research led her to the idea that making one herself was the quickest way to fulfill their wish.

Violetta assembling FPV drones at her jewelry workshop.

In autumn 2023, the Ukrainian social initiative Victory Drones cooperated with the drone manufacturing brand ‘Vyriy’ to launch the People’s FPV project, offering free drone assembly courses for civilians.

The course has gained over 17,000 participants, who can receive free feedback from lecturers and an opportunity to submit their self-made 7-inch FPV drones for testing. They’ve produced 350 drones as of the beginning of February.

Self-Taught Assembly

For Violetta, the immersion into drone assembly took only one evening. She enrolled in the course to get access to its video lessons and list of materials, and meticulously watched the videos to identify missing details.

Those few hours marked the beginning of full-time work on drone assembly, during which Violetta has assembled 23 FPV and bomber drones, all successfully tested and deployed for combat missions on the frontlines.

Despite her background in the arts being instrumental in soldering, Violetta believes that drone assembly skills can be mastered by anyone who can handle a blowtorch, screwdriver, and a tweezer.

The average cost of a drone parts set ranges from $420 USD for an FPV, used for reconnaissance and kamikaze missions; to $530 USD for a reusable bomber drone, deployed for attacks.

Procuring parts remains a significant challenge. Due to inflated prices and high demand in wartime Ukraine, Violetta usually orders sets of components from Chinese marketplaces. But this comes with having to deal with month-long shipping, customs duties management, and the constant risk of receiving defective items or having the pre-paid orders canceled.

The assembly process takes several hours, after which Violetta uploads a pre-made computer file to install software. Then she conducts preliminary testing: examining motor functionality and temperature, and verifying radio and video transmission.

Subsequently, the drone leaves Violetta’s workshop — once dedicated to jewel-crafting — and undergoes final testing by drone pilots before deployment on combat missions.

Violetta is also a burgeoning drone pilot these days, learning from long periods testing FPVs. Having mastered the fundamentals of drone assembly, she now focuses on learning how to equip her products with thermal imagers and perfecting final flybys.

“There’s the constant risk of being hit by missiles, Shahids [Iranian-made kamikaze drones widely deployed by Russia], as well as sabotage threats,” she said. “If this production is dispersed enough that everyone assembles a drone in their own home, we are all relatively safe – as long as there is no large storage or centralized production.”

The Grandfather’s Role

An unexpected ally in her family is helping with the project. Violetta’s 82-year-old grandfather, who aspired to join territorial defense troops early in the invasion but was rejected due to his age, fervently supports her initiative.

Having taught model aviation long before her birth, he assisted his granddaughter with drone assembly but had to quit because of poor eyesight. Instead, he has poured all of his energy into convincing the city council to allocate funds for purchasing drones for Ukrainian servicemen and even organized drone assembly training in a local school.

Violetta’s grandfather, assisting her volunteering efforts.

“You have to understand the responsibility that [drone assembly] implies. Your task is to assemble a drone that will fly and do its job. After all, it’s a very important item, not a decoration or a kind of construction set,” said Violetta, whose days now mainly consist of taking orders from soldiers, sending and receiving packages, and making drones in her kitchen.

And despite the fact that her tools now shape plastic rather than silver, she remains exactly who she used to be – a jeweler in wartime.

“Doing Your Bit”-A Duty Every Generation Encounters

The Black Man’s Bit

by Leslie Pinckney Hill  published in 1921

“Leslie Pinckney Hill was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, on May 14, 1880. He attended public schools in East Orange, New Jersey, before graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in 1903. He earned a master’s degree a year later.”

In the foreword in the book this poem appears, Hill wrote, “Nothing in the life of the nation has seemed to me more significant than that dark civilization which the colored man has built up in the midst of a white society organized against it. The Negro has been driven under all the burdens of oppression, both material and spiritual, to the brink of desperation, but he has always been saved by his philosophy of life. He has advanced against all opposition by a certain elevation of his spirit. He has been made strong in tribulation. He has constrained oppression to give him wings.

“In such poems as  ‘The Black Man’s Bit,’  I have desired to exhibit something of this indestructible spiritual quality of my race (during WW I). I trust that there may be in all at least an implied appeal to that spirit of human brotherhood by which alone the world must find the path to peace.”  (Source: poets.org)

O there’s talk from school to pulpit, and the barber’s place is rife,
And the shoe shop and the supper table hum,
With the tale of Dixies black men who have shared the mighty strife
For that freedom of the better time to come.
Every mother’s eye is brighter, every father’s back is straighter,
And our girls are tripping lightly in their pride,
And by none except a Teuton, or a slacker, or a traitor, 
Will the right to their elation be denied.

They said they were too slow, too dull, too this and that to do it,
They couldn’t match the method of the Hun,
And then to arm a million—why, the land would surely rue it
If a million blacks were taught to use a gun.
But right won out, and they went in at all detractors smiling;
They learned as quick as any how to shoot,
They took the prize at loading ships, and riveting and piling,
And trained a thousand officers to boot.

And when they went ’twas with a boon no others had been bringing,
For whether with a pick or with a gun,
They lightened every labor with a wondrous sort of singing,
And turned the pall of battle into fun.
O the Frenchman was a marvel, and the Yankee was a wonder,
And the British line was like a granite wall,
But for singing as they leaped away to draw the Kaisers thunder,
The swarthy sons of Dixie beat them all.

And now that they have helped to break the rattling Hunnish sabre,
Theyll trail the Suwanee River back again
To Dixie home, and native song, and school and honest labor,
To be as men among their fellow men.
No special thanks or praise they’ll ask, no clapping on the shoulder
They did their bit, and won, and all men know it
And Dixie will be proud of them, and grown a little older,
And wiser, too, will welcome them and show it.

A Contemporary Moment

I read this poem about wartime duty and on Monday, received these two pictures from an event at the Lincoln Memorial.  It honored wounded Ukrainian soldiers sent to the US for treatment.

Hill’s words again:

“He has advanced against all opposition by a certain elevation of his spirit. He has been made strong in tribulation. He has constrained oppression to give him wings.”

And wiser, too, (we) will welcome them and show it.

Ukraine in the Third Year of Russia’s Invasion

President Zelensky’s assessment: we are 730  days closer to victory.

I have periodically commented on this war with pictures and accounts from the country.  I believe the Russian invasion of Ukraine February 22, 2022 is an event that will affect Americans for a generation.

A Tutorial Question

My undergraduate major was in international relations.  I took a course two years later at Oxford on European international evens between  WW I  and WW II which explored the origins of the second world war: inevitable or not?

For the final paper my tutor assigned the question, Did the conquering of Poland  (by Germany and Russia) so radically alter the European balance of power that a negotiated peace was  an impossibility from a political and military point of view?

The question arose because there was a period   after Russia & Germany’s division of Poland that brought a relative calm.  This seemed to indicate that further Nazi aggression westward might be avoided, even though England and France had declared war on Germany after the Polish invasion.

My tutor was a graduate student, Martin Gilbert, who had been asked to complete Churchill’s biography after his son Randolph was unable to do so.  I  had to leave college   early(Uncle Sam calling) before he could go over my essay in person.  He wrote me a one-page cover letter as well as marking up my paper.

In his letter he suggested the following  event might  have been cited, which he was aware of because of his work on Churchill’s papers:

You might note that when Russian invaded Finland,  many  western observers hoped to  turn  the war (vs. Germany) against Russia.  The idea being that if France and Britain were at war with Russia, Hitler might join in and the “western” war forgotten.   But these were wild imaginings that would not come to anything—although the Supreme War Council (UK) discussed an Anglo-French war on Russia very seriously in December 1939. 

What does this have to do with Ukraine?   Simply there will always be a time of calm or uncertainty when some will push to accept the current status to avoid further conflict.  One has to understand the nature and motivations of an adversary, not hope for peace at any price.  Churchill never doubted who Hitler was.

If we leave Ukraine and believe we can avoid the consequences of our abandonment, we will, in my view, be involved in greater international crises in the near future.

Why believe that a positive outcome is possible?

A View of a Journalist who Adopted Ukraine

Francis Farrell is an Australian who went to Ukraine a month prior to February 2022.  He became a full time correspondent for The Kyiv Independent a daily digital news organization.

Here are his reflections on this anniversary:

I want to just mention a few little things, a couple of little observations about the Ukraine we live in today.

People sometimes say that life in Kyiv goes on as if there is no war. In my circle of male friends, almost everyone is learning how to build and fly drones, preparing to take the plunge into the military sooner rather than later.

People sometimes say that donations are down. All over my social media, I see the opposite: Ukrainians have built a practice of splitting up large fundraisers between friends, using cards with slick graphics, and see donating not as charity, but as civic duty.

People sometimes say that internally displaced people are being left behind. My friend, alongside a full-time job in marketing, has established a non-profit resettling people they evacuate from front-line settlements to villages in the rear, offering them free housing and revitalizing local economies.

People sometimes say that the free world is abandoning Ukraine. In the space of the past week, three more countries have signed security agreements with Kyiv, and more are on the way.

All we need is for someone on the other side of the Atlantic to shake some sense into a certain House Speaker and Putin will be fuming.

And, of course, people say that Ukraine can never take control of the skies, and that F-16s won’t make a difference. Well, Ukraine is now shooting down Russian planes at a rate not seen since the early months of the full-scale invasion, including, oh hello, what looks like a second priceless A-50 early warning and control jet just a few hours ago!

That’s it from me for now, I was never great at giving lavish speeches on big occasions.

I don’t know what the third year of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine will bring.

A lot of pain and a lot of pride, probably.

What I do know is that I am so grateful for all of you who are still with us, with Ukraine and with the Kyiv Independent. Good night

Pictures of Hope, Courage and Sacrifice


School goes underground

Blown bridges to protect Kyiv in initial days of war

Evacation from Bakhmut

A military cemetary outside Kyiv

The Gerdan Ensemble in a concert of Ukrainian folk and dance music Sunday at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church. All standing for the Ukrainian national anthem.

The Bells on Christmas Day-In Ukraine

From James Russell Lowell’s poem:

I heard the bells on Christmas dayTheir old familiar carols playAnd mild and sweet their songs repeatOf peace on Earth, good will to men. . .

And in despair I bowed my head“There is no peace on Earth, ” I saidFor hate is strong and mocks the songOf peace on Earth, good will to men. . .

Ukrainian Christmas Scenes

This year Ukraine moved the celebration of Orthodox Christmas to December 25.

“The trident, or “tryzub,” remains one of Ukraine’s most iconic symbols. Shaped like a spear with three prongs, its history goes back centuries. Volodymyr the Great included the symbol on coins when he ruled Kyiv from 980 to 1015.” (wikipedia)

McDonald’s deliveries.

A tree of shell canisters.

A video report from the Kiev Independent that captures the spirit of hope.

Then rang the bells more loud and deepGod is not dead, nor doth He sleep(Peace on Earth)(Peace on Earth)The wrong shall fail, the right prevailWith peace on Earth, good will to men
Then ringing, singing on its wayThe world revolved from night to dayA voice, a chime, a chant sublimeOf peace on Earth, good will to men

Freedom’s Reality

The last two weekends Joan and I have gone to two Ukrainian events.  The first was a three-day folk festival at St. Andrew’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Silver Spring, Maryland.

A tote bag from the festival.

Yesterday we attended the Sunday service at the First Baptist Church of Alexandria, Virginia  which featured the women of the Kiev Symphony Orchestra.  They are on a 35-day tour of the Eastern US.  The men of the chorus are unable to leave the country,

The women in concert.

Why Ukraine Matters

Timothy Snyder is a Yale history professor who has written extensively on Ukraine.

His course, The Making of Modern Ukraine, is 23 lectures on the country’s  history, completed in December 2022.  Every lecture can be viewed here.

This article is from last week.  The author presents Snyder’s brief historical context for the war.  More immediate, he addresses current political debates including Musk’s recent “non-activation” of his starlink satellite network stopping a Ukrainian attack on the Russian navy in Crimea.

Snyder provides the logic for why this war matters for America.  In the following paragraphs he presents an essential fact about freedom, whether in Ukraine, in America or even in the governance of credit unions.

“The freedom that Ukraine seeks today is “the value of values” because it is a “condition in which you are able to make choices among other values and realize those choices.”

“Americans (and many others) owe Ukrainians a huge debt of gratitude for their resistance to Russian aggression. .  .

“The greatest debt concerns freedom. This is a word that we Americans use quite a lot, but we sometimes lose track of what it really means.

“For the past thirty years or so, we have fallen into a very bad habit of believing that freedom is something that is delivered to us by larger forces, for example by capitalism. This is simply not true, and believing it has made us less free.

“The whole history of the progress of human liberty,” Frederick Douglass said, “shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle.” It will always be the case that freedom depends upon some kind of risky effort made against the larger forces.

“Freedom, in other words, will always depend upon an ethical commitment to a different and better world, and will always suffer when we believe that the world itself will do the work for us.“

Or, as the Ukrainian sailor defending a Snake Island outpost gestures in defiance  to a Russian warship’s  demand they surrender–an action portrayed on a commemorative stamp:

Labor Day from Ukraine

The first day of school.  Pupils of the first grade attend a lesson in a classroom set up in a subway station in Kharkiv, on September 4, 2023. Children in Kharkiv attend classes in subway stations due to the threat of Russian shelling.

The road ahead.


Ukraine Update From the Weekend

On Sunday I heard two presentations by Dr. Ivan Rusyn, President, Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary in Bucha.  The seminary sends help throughout the front lines.  Over 20 military chaplains have been killed in the war.

The country has adopted a policy that the men will not wear ties until the war is over-no politicians, no businessmen, no diplomats.   So he began wearing a priest’s collar so his vocation can be immediately identified.  “Our role is not just spiritual but to serve the whole person.”

Assistance-medical, meals, transportation- is extended to all persons regardless of any religious affiliation, a ministry he calls responding to the “unfamiliar neighbor.”

“Democracy is now a global affair.  It is tested everywhere if it fails anywhere.”

Meanwhile In Russia

Uneasy lies the head of an authoritarian government.  The Putin and Yevgeny Prigozhin relationship changes quickly.

Putin’s Fixer:

Memorial Day 2023-Words in War’s Time

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, every day has been a “Memorial Day “ for a family somewhere in that country.

Four days ago Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave a surprise commencement address to graduates of Johns Hopkins University by a live video link.

His country is in a war for its freedom.  Yet he took time to speak to 10,00 students and families of an American university’s graduating class.

The following are short excerpts from his ten minute speech in English.  They offer insight for how he views his leadership role.  These are words of discernment and character.

To the Johns Hopkins University Graduating Class of 2023:

Time is of the essence, and it is that essence that I would like to talk about today. One of the most common truisms on Earth is the advice to value, or at least not waste time. Why has it become so widespread?

Every person eventually realizes that time is the most valuable resource on the planet, not oil or uranium, not lithium or anything else, but time. Time.

The very flow of time convinces us of this. Some people realize this sooner, and these are the lucky ones. Others realize it too late when they lose someone or something. People cannot avoid it. This is just a matter of time. . .

Will you be able not to waste this time of your life? This topic seems trivial, but these are very, very difficult questions for every person. How you answer them is how you live. And while it is still possible to find new deposits of oil or lithium, and if in the future humanity can start mining resources in space, it is still purely science fiction to live longer than has been given. . .

Of course, I do not wish anyone to feel like they are in my shoes, and it’s impossible to give a manual on how to go through life so as not to waste its time.

However, one piece of advice always works. You have to know exactly why you need today and how you want your tomorrows to look like. You have to know this when you are a politician and have to achieve a certain goal for your country. You have to know this when you are a soldier and you have to defend your position so that the whole country is protected.

You have to know this when you just have to go through life. Sometimes, however, when you are young and when you are a student, you still need to waste some time. What is life without it? But only sometimes, and when no one else depends on you.

And I’m certain you, as your forefathers, will continue to lead the free world. And this century will be our century, a century where freedom, innovation, and democratic values reign. A century where tyrannies that repress their own and seek to enslave their neighbors will vanish from us once and for all.

But all of our tomorrows, and the tomorrows of our children and grandchildren, depend on each of our todays. On each of our todays.”  END of speech.

A Prophecy

From the Book of Haggai:  “The glory of this latter house  shall be greater than of the former. . .and in this place will I give peace.”

We  can pray that this is Ukraine’s destiny on this day of memories of lives lost in past and present wars.  Dona Nobis Pacem