The war in Ukraine has made life worse for millions of people. But one professor here in Minnesota is trying to make things better. Much like a superhero in the movies – by day he teaches theology, by night he saves lives from a distance. I am Milena Kirova from World Press Institute fellowship program. Let’s talk about war and democracy with Pavel Gavrilyuk, the founding president of the nonprofit Rebuild Ukraine.
“My personal view, that fundamentally democracy is about human rights, it’s about the value and respect for an individual human being. And it’s certainly about moral autonomy and it’s about the equality of opportunities,” says Gavrilyuk.
So far the registered charity says it has raised more than half a million dollars for Ukraine. Pavel – also known as Paul Gavrilyuk – was born in Ukraine but for 30 years has lived more than 5,000 miles away from his homeland. His parents are now refugees in Lithuania. The University of St. Thomas theology professor remembers the war’s first moment as if it happened yesterday.
“Because a friend, stationed in Europe sent me a very brief text. And this was 3 minutes after Russia began the movement. And the text said: “It is happening.” And at the beginning of the war I founded a charity, called “Rebuild Ukraine” — a nonprofit, specifically we are helping Ukraine’s defenders with medical supplies, protective gear and emergency vehicles. So, for example, in 2022 — in the past year, we have been privileged to deliver 22 emergency vehicles, including ambulances and SUVs and minivans to 70 military units. Ninety-five percent of our benefactors are actually not ethnic Ukrainians. So I think it’s really significant to indicate this is not simply an effort of people who shared blood. It’s actually a moral effort,” he says.
To him that also is democracy in action, because people are helping people.
“It’s really important to remind your readers that NATO did not invade Russia, Russia invaded Ukraine,” says Gavrilyuk.
As a professor of theology he is convinced that before we can speak about forgiveness, we have to speak about justice.