A beacon of hope: How one Air Force chaplain remains hopeful amidst Russian-Ukraine conflict

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Cydney Lee
  • 436th Public Affairs

A middle-aged man in dark pastor robes sits on the edge of a wooden pew, hands clasped. Overwhelming sadness and worry washes over him as he reflects on those who have lost their lives since Russia invaded Ukraine.

His heart is pained as he wonders: “How many people have to die before this stops?”

After a long, shaky breath, the man dips his head in prayer and speaks.

“Lord, be with the suffering people of Ukraine. Keep my family safe and stop this wicked war. Comfort them in the way that only You can. In Your holy name I pray, amen.”

For Chaplain (Capt.) Yury Volkovinsky, a reservist assigned to the 512th Airlift Wing at Dover Air Force Base, praying for his family in Ukraine has become a daily occurrence.

Volkovinsky grew up in Belarus under the reign of the Soviet Union and experienced firsthand a totalitarian system with no freedom of speech, assembly or religion. He came to the U.S. in 2012, and eventually joined the U.S. Air Force to protect the very freedoms he was once deprived of.

“I joined [the U.S. Air Force] because I see the U.S. military as a global force for good and I wanted to play my part in the fight for freedom,” Volkovinsky said. “Being a part of the Air Force gives my life a greater purpose.”

Volkovinsky was at an airport in Texas when he first heard news of Russian forces invading Ukraine. The attack did not come as a total shock to him due to the long-rising tensions between the countries, he said.

“[It’s comparable to] having a terminally ill family member. You know they’re going to die, but when they [do] it’s still a surprise,” Volkovinsky said. “[The Russian invasion] was a similar situation. We knew it was going to happen, but no one knew when.”

Despite anticipating the attack, Volkovinsky still fears for his family and the people of Ukraine.

“[I’m] worried about [my] family in Ukraine, as the Russians cannot defeat the Ukrainian military and instead attack the civilian infrastructure in retaliation,” Volkovinsky said.

Two of his relatives were forced to relocate from their apartment complex, which was no longer safe due to its proximity to a Ukrainian military base.

His other relatives are only able to communicate through messengers, as they have limited electrical power. Russian forces destroyed the local power grid, forcing Volkovinsky’s relatives to heat their house by burning wood.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights estimates over 16,000 civilians have been injured or killed since the beginning of the invasion. These grim conditions are enough to cause someone to lose hope, but as a chaplain, Volkovinsky holds tight to his faith.

"In every circumstance of my life I keep asking myself, ‘Where is God in this situation?’" Volkovinsky said. “And I can say that I see His presence in so many Americans who are helping the suffering people of Ukraine.”

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the U.S. has supplied $17.6 billion worth of security assistance to Ukraine. Dover AFB specifically has risen to the occasion by supporting over 200 security assistance missions. Dover Airmen have seen an increase in workload and hours in order to meet mission requirements, and their support has not gone unnoticed.

Evil cannot prevail in the long run, but it takes effort, grit and determination on our part to stop it. Each and every one of us needs to be willing to play our part to make it happen.Chaplain (Capt.) Yury Volkovinsky

“Some time ago, the [Dover AFB Facebook page] posted pictures of the support team Dover has sent to Ukraine,” Volkovinsky said. “Some of my friends from Ukraine reposted those pictures on their social media, commenting [on] how happy they were seeing all this help coming their way.”

Volkovinsky expressed his gratitude for all of the support the U.S. has contributed and for his teammates who have worked tirelessly to make it happen.

“Every piece of equipment that is sent to Ukraine from the U.S. translates into saved lives of innocent civilians and brave Ukrainian defenders,” Volkovinsky said.

Volkovinsky said he is proud to be a part of a mission that directly supports his loved ones and the Ukrainian people. He remains a beacon of hope and holds strong to his belief that brighter days are to come for his loved ones.

“Evil cannot prevail in the long run, but it takes effort, grit and determination on our part to stop it,” Volkovinsky said. “Each and every one of us needs to be willing to play our part to make it happen.”

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