Quinnipiac religious leaders reflect on humanitarian trip to Ukraine

Melina Khan, News Editor

When the Rev. Jordan Lenaghan walked into the student center of Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine, last week, he encountered three students who reminded him of the ones he works with at Quinnipiac University.

“I’m not afraid to die,” Lenaghan said each student told him in English while preparing aid supplies for the Ukrainian army.

Lenaghan, executive director of religious life, and the Rev. Joachim Kenney, staff chaplain, spent 10 days beginning March 10 in Ukraine with the Knights of Columbus as part of a humanitarian trip amid the Ukraine war. Russia invaded the country Feb. 24 in what it called a “special military operation,” leading nearly 4 million Ukrainians to flee the country so far.

Revs. Lenaghan and Kenney visited the student center at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, Ukraine, during a 10-day humanitarian trip. ( PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY THE REV. JORDAN LENAGHAN)

After returning to Connecticut, Lenaghan and Kenney spoke about their experiences during a press conference March 23. During the trip, the two revs. said each person they encountered, including the UCU students, thought they would die in the war.

“If we were to transport those three students into the middle of Rocky Top, you wouldn’t be able to say, ‘they’re different’ — they would look just like all of you,” Lenaghan told The Chronicle. “I think that’s the most jarring message for our students.”

The reverends, who traveled to Europe with other Dominican friars to help refugees who had fled Ukraine, initially planned to stay in Krakow, Poland, near the Ukrainian border. 

However, once they had arrived, the reverends became interested in crossing to the other side.

“We were speaking with a person on the ground who was handling logistics for all the Dominicans and the Knights and we said, ‘Well, I want to go into Lviv, I want to see the other side of the story. I want to also be able to understand what they need,’” Lenaghan said.

The next day, the pair traveled to a warehouse in a nearby city, where they boarded an unmarked truck and began the journey into Ukraine.

“We got in this truck with this Russian-speaking guy with a Ukrainian passport that we had never met before,” Lenaghan said. “We were in Roman collars, we were in the back of the cab and off we went on a 21-hour trip into Ukraine.”

“I want to go into Lviv, I want to see the other side of the story.””

— — the rev. jordan lenaghan, executive director of religious life

Upon arriving in Lviv, Kenney said they saw people who were trying to go about their daily lives as much as possible.

“The streets were filled with people … but you also saw lots of signs of preparation for possible attacks,” Kenney said.

Such preparation was clear when looking at the city’s buildings, Kenney said. Monuments, churches and statues had been boarded up in case of an attack in the city.

Over the week, Lenaghan and Kenney set out to speak with Ukrainians and ask them about their experiences, including what they want Americans to know about the war.

Kenney said many Ukrainians asked the Americans to “close the skies,” meaning they wished for the U.S. and NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. Other Ukrainians shared two words: thank you.

“There’s a parish that we visited that was housing about 200 refugees, and one of the volunteers from the parish … we asked her what should we take back and her words were ‘thank you, just for helping us to know that we’re not alone,’” Kenney said.

Lenaghan and Kenney said they hope to continue supporting Ukrainians from Hamden. They are planning to set up a program for Quinnipiac students to Zoom with students from UCU.

“We told everyone there, ‘The two of us are not going to be able to change anything, but we can go back, we can tell your story, we can testify and witness and then we can begin to act,’” Lenaghan said. “So we do intend to begin to act, even here at Quinnipiac.”