By Steve Richards
My first Ukraine documentary, Trek to Bucha, was shot in April 2022 during the full-scale invasion’s early days. In January 2023 I returned to film Back to Bucha, revisiting those I had met plus several ladies and moms in Kyiv and Bucha who had moved back with their families since the initial evacuations. Why? To build their lives and raise their children in their own homes, in their own country. The film also features Ukraine’s diverse Christian community and the young men of Ukraine. It captures the inspirational - and the realities - of their lives during wartime.
The film officially premiered at the Claremont Opera House in New Hampshire on September 30, 2023 with screenings so far held from Austin to Boston, Florida to Pennsylvania. Audiences laugh and cry with the interviewees witnessing Ukraine’s Spirit throughout.
Our goal? To take this uplifting film to Americans to raise awareness, entertain, and inspire - all while raising funds for Ukrainian causes. In particular, we want to shine a light on the misinformation and disinformation campaigns related to de-satanization and de-nazification assertions by Putin and Russian leaders including chief priest Kiril. From now through Election Day 2024 we plan to canvas the battleground states, reaching out to groups and venues of all kinds. For instance on December 15, 2023 we have a weekend of screenings for our Florida premiere at the Lake Worth Playhouse in conjunction with Lake Worth’s Episcopal church just five miles from Mar-a-Lago. These are our first theatrical screenings in which we bring together churches, theaters, and community organizations to support Ukraine.
But first I head to Ukraine on Christmas Day to screen the film for the film’s stars and others as they enter another winter with a fragile energy grid sure to be targeted. This includes a gala Bucha Premiere on January 5th. before returning to the USA January 10th. We will also begin work on the next film as we document Ukraine’s Christmas and New Year festivities at this perilous time. Should make for some great footage!
But it’s not just screenings. Our outreach includes email campaigns to members of the international press, politicians, and perhaps most importantly, church and community leaders throughout the USA. PBS and other broadcast outreach are also part of what we are working on.
Our goal is to raise $9,500 over the coming weeks to cover the holiday screenings and the new video shoots. We’ve also budgeted $30,000 including $10,000 already incurred on our summer outreach tour to Evangelical and other churches in the South, Texas, and Northeast. This amounts to a total of $39,500 of which we’ve already raised just over $10,000.
Lastly, part of the rationale for going to Ukraine during the holidays is to offer a bit of support and reassurance from friends in the USA. You are part of this group.
Would you like to support these efforts? Simply donate using the link below. And remember, 50% of all screening revenues go to Ukrainian causes.
At the Lake Worth Playhouse - 6:00 PM on Friday, December 15, 2023
A couple weeks ago, we previewed Back to Bucha for a group of parishioners at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Lake Worth Beach. It got a unanimous thumbs up!
So much so that Reverend Cori Olsen and I reached out to the Lake Worth Playhouse’s Stonzek Theatre just down the street to expand on the church’s screening capabilities and have arranged a weekend of screenings beginning with Back to Bucha’s Florida Premiere on Friday evening at 6:00 PM. The first of several such screenings being planned over the coming months, I am excited to have our Florida premiere in such a great venue where I will introduce the film and lead the Q&A afterwards.
The film provides an uplifting view of people just like us dealing with Russia’s war - especially the moms just trying to raise their families in their own country, after returning home after the war’s early months.
There is no charge to attend the premiere screening though donations are encouraged with net proceeds being shared with the Bucha based non-profit Ya Buchanec.
Additional screenings of the film will be held throughout the weekend with showtimes at 1:00, 3:00, and 5:00 in the afternoon on Saturday plus two screenings on Sunday at 1:00 and 3:00. Tickets are $9 with proceeds going to support Ya Buchanec, the film, and the playhouse. For more about the weekend screenings click here.
This is a great opportunity to support Ukraine the entire weekend. Come out and join us!
Click here to register for the Premiere event.
Episcopalians apparently are not conservative enough for Ukraine’s religions leaders.
On Friday I sent a post about a delegation of Ukrainian religious leaders coming to Houston. I was honored to be their guide to two services today, including a 6:00 PM service at St. Martin‘s Episcopal Church, the nation’s largest Episcopal parish. I sent Friday’s post after personally confirming the night before that the group would indeed be there. This after the group reached out to me two weeks ago and asked for my suggestions about a mega-church they could visit. The visit was approved by the group and St. Martin’s shortly thereafter.
Much work has gone into St. Martin’s enthusiastic embrace of – and preparation for - the group’s visit, from the Rector down. The choir has even prepared a rendition of the Ukrainian National Anthem to be sung after a prayer for Ukraine, which was to be offered by the leader of the delegation.
It would have been beautiful.
Would have been because late yesterday I received a text that the delegation would not be attending this evening’s service after all. Why? Because the Episcopal church is not conservative enough; by which I think they mean the church supports a woman’s right to choose and allows female and LGBTQ+ priests. Apparently, it is unacceptable for these ecclesiastics to be seen praying with us.
That one of America’s oldest mainline denominations – George Washington’s in fact - and such strong supporters of Ukraine – should have to endure such an insult is unbelievable to me. As a proud Episcopalian I immediately advised the group that I could not in good conscience continue to work with them.
America’s Episcopalians have been dealing with issues like LGBTQ+ clergy for many years, and many of the tens of millions worldwide in the Anglican Communion – of which the Episcopal Church is part - disagree with us on these issues. That’s fine. Disagreement and infighting is part of the evolution of the Body of Christ I suppose. Ukraine’s religious community will find itself changing as well if they are truly committed to religious freedoms and really want to join the West. If not, they should consider returning their gaze to Russia. Putin and Kiril are anxiously awaiting them and will see this episode as a victory.
I am deeply sorry that such a travesty by this disinformed pharisaic group, sent here to garner support from America’s politicians, has occurred. They should have stayed home. They obviously do not understand where they are this Sunday.
We live in a country where religious and personal liberties are bedrock, which includes gay marriage and LGBTQ+ inclusion. That includes going to church and the right to be gay. The Episcopal Church opens its doors to everyone – and that includes seminaries and the priesthood. We are proud of our stance and consider it the truest expression of Christ’s Love for all.
The dynamism in America’s churches has allowed denominations to adapt over the years, but not without much pain and many schisms, including within the Episcopal Church. This dynamism is happening right now throughout the USA’s churches. Turns out even conservatives have gay kids. Ukrainians too. Judging from the UCCRO collection of representatives sent here they are just beginning this process. I wish them luck and intend to document the process.
I will be at the service this evening at St. Martin’s sitting in the pews reserved for the Ukrainian contingent. I can only offer my deepest apologies for representing the group to begin with and for their atrociously bad manners. Surely their mothers taught them better. Lesson learned.
I still hope the delegation decides to come in the end. Or at least a Nicodemus or two. Hopefully, the choir will still sing the Shche ne vmerla Ukraina. Because in the end, we can’t judge Ukraine’s people from this episode. Ukraine still deserves our support – even if their religious leaders don’t represent them very well.
God bless Ukraine.
Members of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (UCCRO) will be attending services in Houston on Sunday, November 5th.
A few weeks ago, I heard about a group of Ukrainian clergy coming to the USA, which I thought was great knowing as I do just how much American and Ukrainian Christians - and other faiths – have in common.
So, I was particularly excited when the group’s sponsor Razom for Ukraine reached out to me to see if I could recommend a mega-church in Houston that the group might be able to connect with. 15 members of UCCRO, including leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, Crimean Tatar, and Orthodox Church religious communities, will join the trip along with Evangelicals, Catholics, and others.
I sent them three churches I had recently visited on Back to Bucha’s Texas Scouting Tour:
Lo and behold the group said that they would like to visit all three! In the end though time allows for just two including a morning service at Northside Christian and an evening service at St. Martin’s. Together with the tremendous reception organized at Ecclesia’s West Side Campus last night the delegation will see a wonderful slice of what Houston’s Christian community offers its faithful. It will be the finale of a whirlwind trip for the group which started Oct. 28th in Washington, DC.
Here is a list of the delegates:
I am honored and excited to be acting as their guide on the 5th!
“The Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (UCCRO) was established in 1996 as an interdenominational institution, aiming to unite the efforts of various denominations to focus on the spiritual revival of Ukraine, coordination of interconfessional dialogue in Ukraine and abroad, participation in a legislative process on church-state issues, and the implementation of comprehensive charitable actions. Today, it is one of the largest non-governmental institutions in Ukraine, representing over 95% of all religious communities in Ukraine. UCCRO works closely with the Ukrainian government, civil society, and international organizations, including on the issues pertaining to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.”
Click here for the press release.