There are more than 5,000 miles from St. Bede Academy to Kyiv, but for a St. Bede student and an alumnus, the war in the Ukraine is very close to home.
Anna Rudenko and Jim Gamache are appealing not only to the St. Bede community, but to the Illinois Valley at large to support the Ukrainians as they fend off invaders from Russia.
Rudenko, 17, is a St. Bede senior and boarder from Kyiv, Ukraine. Gamache is a 1972 graduate of St. Bede and has been living in Aurora since 2009 after a long career in transportation logistics. Until recently, they had never met; but now they’re using St. Bede as a kind of pulpit to encourage support for the embattled Ukrainians.
There were only three nights where I didn’t hear an air alert.”— Jim Gamache, St. Bede alumnus
Rudenko said the initial challenge was the eight-hour time difference, which made it difficult to pick up the phone and contact loved ones. Though there have been no casualties in her immediate circle, she shrinks from saying her family is outside the line of fire.
“You can’t really say ‘safe’ for sure since there is a war,” Rudenko said, “They are staying in a safer region, you could call it that, not close to a border where things are exploding.”
To manage the stress, she has prayed constantly, stayed positive and, where possible, sent home small donations to alleviate the suffering of others.
Gamache, meanwhile, has become active in supporting Ukraine since a random encounter with a Ukrainian mother and her small son a year ago. Gamache was on a hiking trip near the border of Poland and Ukraine when the woman thanked him for the United States’ support for her country.
Deeply moved by her plight – as the woman had recently seen her soldier husband for the first time in five months – Gamache resolved on the spot to help Ukraine war effort in a direct way.
He traveled to Ukraine in May and put his hands to work. Among the tasks he volunteered for was bagging up dehydrated foods for soldiers to eat on the front line. He visited a site where 80 soldiers were killed and wondered at times if he would join the ranks of the deceased.
“When I stayed in Kyiv, I felt the building shake with a missile explosion,” he said. “That happens everywhere. On my first trip, there were only three nights where I didn’t hear an air alert.”
Despite the personal risks, he’s going back. He departed for Lviv on Sept. 11 and after greeting friends, he’s headed to Kyiv to meet with a journalist with whom he’ll travel with to lend a hand.
“This is truly a battle of good vs. evil,” Gamache said. “There’s no doubt about it. That’s what has driven me to help others in need.”
As a volunteer, he is expecting to use his own funds and to give as needed. While there are many worthy charities, Gamache said he is partial to Ukrainian Freedom News, which provides aid including medical supplies, and Front Line Kitchen in Lviv, which is producing provisions for the winter.
He is, sadly, convinced that the war will not be resolved in 2023. Gamache called the Ukrainians “wonderful, welcoming and thankful,” and wished that it was better known that the Ukrainians are people of faith. The country is predominantly Christian, mostly Catholic and Orthodox, though very tolerant of other faiths.
“They will give you the shirt off their back, they have a great love of freedom and they’re willing to fight for it,” Gamache said. “Because of this, I believe they will not lose. I’m so fortunate to be able to help them.”