Before the Alamo was a symbol of liberty it was a church.
By Steve Richards
While in San Antonio on my tour of Texas churches to screen Back to Bucha, I stopped into the Alamo. I had been before but I saw it in a whole new light this time.
This time it was a church. Perhaps it had something to do with it being #17 on my tour of 23 churches beginning two weeks and 2,500+ miles earlier. Back to Bucha – Scouting Tour of the South and Texas (theoeco.org)
The mission, originally named Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1755 would later become the Alamo and was a place of worship until 1793. Alamo Church | The Alamo. Countless prayers were presumably offered over the years as well as services offered even during the time it was a fort. Surely there were many impassioned and faithful prayers offered there as the Mexican troops moved in. And so many offered since by millions of visitors to this sacred place.
Texians (what Anglo-Mexicans in Texas were called) were fighting for the same things Ukrainians fight for today. A fight against tyranny by courageous individuals who want nothing but liberty. These are the same human sentiments that Boston slave and first best-selling African American writer, Phyllis Wheatly, perhaps put it best:
In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance. - Phillis Wheatley - 1774
Ukraine and its people are the greatest example of our time of this universal principal and why so many Americans identify with Ukrainians and support them.
Delving into the history of Texas leading up to the 1836 Battle of the Alamo it became especially clear to me also that Ukrainians are following a path that the Texians would have recognized – as do most Americans. Like America’s 13 original states they were committed to gain independence from a far larger force that had become destructive of their rights. Santa Ana clamped down on uprisings throughout Mexico with Texas having been granted a certain amount of autonomy in the Mexican Constitution of 1824. Santa Anna made himself an autocrat and tried to reassert control. Thomas Jefferson captured the Enlightenment principles of his day in the United States Declaration of Independence:
"…That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
This is what Ukraine is doing today. As did the Texians and Americans before. The point being that a government that doesn’t provide liberty does not deserve to govern, and citizens have the right to set up a new one. Add the name Zelensky to the name of brave leaders who, through circumstances and the right stuff, fight for his citizens’ liberty.
The Spirit was and is in all these places.
Texas is also roughly the same size as Ukraine. Another less commonly known factoid: neither have nuclear weapons on their soil. At least since Ukraine peacefully gave up theirs almost thirty years ago.
Plus, the countless movies and stories don’t do either place justice. Leaders like Austin, Bowie, and Crocket – all who died at the Alamo - fire the pangs of patriotism in America – as well as Ukrainians and free loving folks across the world, not just Texans. The martyrs inspire worldwide as evidenced by English musician Phil Collins’ Alamo collection now on display at the museum there.
Another similarity, Texas was a Republic before it joined the USA. Ukraine became a Republic and is still free and independent as it continues its journey to becoming a more fully unified member in Europe. It doesn’t matter that some previous ruler or government laid claim before. So long as their people are willing to die as those at the Alamo did. Same as those at Bunker Hill and throughout Ukraine right now. The fight is always for the same thing. It doesn’t matter that Mexico, the English, or the Russians said the place was theirs. No matter the history – or the legends. All that matters is that the governed had a right to a new government that provided liberty. And in every case the cost was blood and victory.
Similarly, the imperfections of the courageous does not take away from the driving principal. America’s founding fathers did not face the issue of slavery in 1776 and the USA continues to pay heavy prices to this day. Similarly, the Texians view of liberty did not include freeing their slaves. Ukraine has deep issues that aren’t being whitewashed away. We and future generations will just have to keep fighting for even more perfect unions, I suppose.
Lastly, atrocities are also part of the fight for Texas and Ukraine Independence. Russian atrocities in Bucha are still being documented. Santa Anna ordered all survivors killed – and each man was. Except for Joe, a slave, so as to live and tell the story.
But that’s not the end of the church in this story. Intriguingly the tour guides seem not to think of its original purpose. I even asked if there were religious services ever held there. Apparently not. But it would be awesome, especially given its sacredness and the mercy shown there in the face of atrocities.
You see, in addition to Joe many women and children were also spared by the Mexican soldiers. They had taken refuge in the church, the last of the fort complex to be taken. So, in the end, the church was fittingly the site of recorded mercy that day.
‘Remember the Alamo!’ is what the Texians yelled as they defeated Santa Anna just weeks later. Glory to the Heroes! is what they say in Ukraine today.
Three weeks, 3,000+ miles, and 23 stops across the South and Texas.By Steve Richards
I am just back from the Back to Bucha scouting/promotional tour looking for venues for our fall screening tour. I began in Atlanta, went north to Charlotte, then west to Little Rock - stopping at churches on the TheoEco email list that care about the modern-day Ukrainian Christendom seen in the film. The Texas leg took me to Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, Houston and many points in between.
Highlights included a stop at Dollywood at the foot of the Smoky Mountains where I was amazed to find an operating one-room country church in the theme park! While that’s hard to beat I also got to visit the First Baptist Church in Farmersville, TX - a rural and thriving congregation led by Rev. Bart Barber whom I had seen on 60 minutes recently. You see, Rev. Barber also happens to be President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s 42,000 churches and 16 million members. But as awesome as these two encounters were, they can’t beat my visit to The Alamo which struck me so much more as the 18th century church it was rather than the fort it became. Its heroes’ sacrifices for liberty echoing that of Ukraine’s in ways I hadn’t felt during previous visits to this sanctuary.
Add to these the screening in Austin and launching fireworks with my sister’s family at their home outside Ft. Worth and it was a great trip! (For the complete list of stops look below)
Here’s a list of the stops made on the South and Texas tour just finished.
Image: Serhii Mykhalchuk / Global Images Ukraine / Getty Images
This article from Christianity Today was published in February of this year. The number of religious buildings destroyed now exceeds 500 - more than one for each day of the 500-day invasion by Russian forces.
And more than 500 religious sites hit including many
Report: 500 Ukrainian Churches and Religious Sites Damaged by Russian Military
By Meagan Saliashvili in Christianity Today
One out of three destroyed or looted buildings tallied by Institute for Religious Freedom belong to evangelicals, accused of being “American spies.”
“The independent research institute presented its latest report this week during the third international religious freedom summit in Washington.
The IRF aims to catalog evidence of Russian war crimes against Ukrainian religious communities. The destruction of religious sites is often intentional and happening in tandem with attacks on civilian believers and pastors, said executive director Maksym Vasin.
Russian soldiers have repeatedly threatened to destroy evangelical Christians in Ukraine, calling them “American spies,” “sectarians,” and “enemies of the Russian Orthodox people,” saidValentyn Siniy, rector of the Kherson-based Tavriski Christian Institute—one of scores of damaged sites belonging to evangelical groups.
Russian forces seized the seminary’s building as a headquarters, looted it, and then left it destroyed, he said.
“One Russian officer told an employee of our institute that ‘evangelical believers like you should be completely destroyed … a simple shooting will be too easy for you. You need to be buried alive,’” said Siniy, according to the IRF report. In a translated video played during the panel, he elaborated, “During a telephone conversation, one of our employees was told, ‘We will bury [Baptist] sectarians like you.’”
The IRF report found that “the scale of destruction of evangelical church prayer houses is immense.” It tallied at least 170 damaged evangelical sites—including 75 Pentecostal churches, 49 Baptist churches, 24 Seventh-day Adventist churches, and 22 “other” evangelical churches—comprising a full third of the total, even though evangelicals comprise less than 5 percent of Ukraine’s population.”
For the full article go to: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2023/february/ukrainian-churches-damaged-russia-war-religious-freedom-irf.html
Atlanta to Little Rock, Amarillo to Houston - Now Through Mid-July
By Steve Richards
I am taking the Back to Bucha show on the road to scout out venues for our fall screening tour on a 2,500+ mile ride and I can’t wait. I have lots of places on the TheoEco email list to stop and see.
I don’t care how hot it is in Texas!
I begin in Atlanta tomorrow June 28th and plan to finish July 18th in Houston with a bunch of stops along the way.
I’m looking forward to spreading the Spirit of Ukraine throughout the area of the country that can appreciate it like no other: The Bible Belt.
Please reach out to me if I’m coming your way. I’ll make every effort to come by and make your acquaintance.
The Ukrainian Christians in Back to Bucha Are Just Like Those in the USA.
By Steve Richards
As we were editing Back to Bucha (shot in Ukraine at the beginning of 2023) it became clear that the original 76-minute version was more of a Christian film than I thought. The new 56-minute cut is better suited to secular audiences with shorter interviews of clergy and others.
My natural perspective is to look at things from a theological point of view, especially since my time at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale almost ten years ago. I have always looked at the war in Ukraine as a battle joined in a quasi-metaphysical, theological realm. Especially when Putin and religious leaders in Russia talk about the patently absurd purpose of the war was to “de-satanize” Ukraine. Satanism, De-Satanization, and Exorcism in Contemporary Russian Rhetoric: Historical Reflections - Cornell University Press.
Absurd because all I meet in Ukraine are Christians with roots dating back to the 10th century. Even St. Andrew was reportedly a bringer of the Gospels in the first century and is the patron saint of Ukraine (and Russia). Of course, they say the same thing about the west and the USA being run by satanists, so I guess we’re all in cahoots with the devil; as many in the USA might agree, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say audiences of Back to Bucha will see folks just like them along the Christian spectrum we see in America: from agnostics raised by Christian moms and grandmothers to those who attend church once or twice a year, to regular church goers. We also get the perspectives of clergy from Presbyterians to Catholics, to Orthodox, to Charismatic. Most of whom are speaking English. I asked a simple question of all whom I interviewed: “Where is the Spirit in all this?”
So, with all these theological threads in the film I was glad that the Christian aspect of the Ukrainian Spirit made it through as I began screening the film for religious leaders and audiences in my orbit. Here’s one review we received from a Florida based Episcopal/Anglican priest:
As a sequel to Richards’ first documentary journey to Bucha—a town representative of Ukrainian suffering as well as resistance under Russian siege—Back to Bucha is a profound meditation on the experience of loss and return, and the significance of place for human meaning and identity. At once impressionist and thematic, Richards weaves together interviews and personal testimonies to form a tapestry not just of human resilience, but perhaps even more of the greater Spirit that inspires the love of country and the love that binds together fellow citizens. It is in this Spirit that stories of the past, as well as hopes for the future, are carried with such graciousness. Absent is the sense of vengefulness, less still a countering sense of ethnic privilege or preeminence. Back to Bucha reveals a humble people, wanting to preserve and, by current necessity, restore a place in which to live, love and worship, according to the gifts of a deeply rich cultural and religious heritage. It is a study in how genuine faith turns the love of nation into simply and gracefully the love of home.”
Not sure about “impressionistic and thematic” but it was clear how much Fr. Dave enjoyed and learned from the film about those he saw in it.
My goal? To give American Christians a chance to see just how much we have in common with our new friends, allies, and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. People just like us. It’s a witnessing of sorts by me and those in the film of how the Spirit plays such a crucial role in the conflict and in Ukrainian resilience. Something rarely talked about in the media.
In the end, American audiences don’t see victims in Back to Bucha. Just those trying to raise their children in their own homes in their own country – and thanking God to be alive. They see people like us fighting for their freedom – and thanking God, America, and all who are in this fight with them.
Spreading the Spirit of Ukraine Across the USA.
By Steve Richards
As the long-awaited counteroffensive by Ukrainian forces begin, we are supporting Ukraine by taking our hopeful film about Ukraine’s Spirit across America. We now have two versions of the film. The new 57-minute cut and the original 76-minute version which takes a deeper dive along Spiritual lines. Both provide great fundraising opportunities for Ukraine.
Here’s what one supporter had to say after our Huntsville screening:
“Our family just viewed the Alabama premiere of Back to Bucha at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. We loved the documentary and we are thankful that Steve Richards found the time to visit our campus and share his artful creation with us. The documentary was powerful and educational, from a perspective that only a boots on the ground approach can provide. I recommend this documentary to Ukrainians, American-Ukrainians, and Americans who wish to walk in the streets of Bucha, Kyiv, and Lviv and get an insightful discussion with the Ukrainians impacted by this war. I can recommend this film to all ages of audience, the context was not graphic, but rather an insight into personal, religious, family challenges.” - Tony Taylor
Building upon our successful screenings and response to the film I am personally planning a 30+ screenings tour between Labor Day and Thanksgiving in regions across the country.
Here are the tentative dates:
Want to be part of it? Just go to the Screenings page by clicking here. Or just contact me directly at 305-310-2634 or email me at Stever@TheoEco.org to get the conversation started.
What about the summer? As I’m based in Miami, I’ll be reaching out to folks on our list throughout South Florida from Tampa to Miami. So, wherever you are in the USA please consider a screening to support Ukraine and the Spirit both here and there. Of course, virtual screenings for groups large and small are always available.
Looking forward to seeing you on the road and online!
By Steve Richards
We had a successful Alabama premiere of the new 1-hour version of Back to Bucha this past Sunday, June 4th at the venerable Wilson Hall Theater at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). The Q&A afterwards included Fr. Roman Nebozhuk online from Kyiv who reported that contrary to what we might surmise from the news the traffic jams are just as bad now as before the full-scale invasion.
Thanks so much to UAH. They provided the theater, the staff, and the energy to make this effort a success. As a donation driven project this help is vital to raising funds for all the non-profits involved: Global Ties Alabama, Project Cherkasy, and Bear Witness. To see the pictures and video from the event visit the facebook page at Back to Bucha – Alabama Premiere & Meeting with the Film Director, June 4 at 1 pm, UAH Wilson Hall | Facebook
Thanks especially to Yaryna Zhurba from Global Ties Alabama who brought it all together. Here’s what she had to say after the screening:
“Thank you for bringing "Back to Bucha" to Huntsville! I enjoyed watching it a lot. The film gives a big desire to go to Ukraine to be part of what's going on there. Luckily I'm going in two days. Otherwise I'd feel very homesick. It provides a true feeling of Ukraine.”
“A film for all generations” her husband told me, and it was a joy to have their children in the audience. I felt like I was at the UCC Cathedral in Kyiv when watching the footage from there not so many Sundays ago. I could also imagine them at the Kindergarten in Kyiv with the other bright and beautiful children who actually enjoy going down to the basement bomb shelter when the sirens wail.
The event also allowed us to honor International Children’s Day. As the film is so much about the moms and children of Ukraine having Ukrainian American children with their mom (and dad) in the audience gave it an extra poignancy for me, especially as Fr. Roman noted the death of a child in Kyiv last week in a missile attack. Ukraine: Russian missile attacks kill a child on International Children’s Day (amnesty.org)
A special shout out to Amit Nepali our intrepid editor who somehow found 20 minutes of cuts from the original film without eliminating any of the interviews. And, of course, Valariia Vovk’s amazing composition is essential to the film and the feelings it evokes.
To commemorate the occasion we are making the film available for free through Sunday June 11th for all to watch.
To view it on Vimeo click here.
This is the final instalment to Back to Bucha’s Press Kit which also includes still photos, the trailer, logline, Director’s Statement, etc. To see the entire Press Kit click here.
The Women, Kids, Young Men, and Pastors of Ukraine’s Spirit.
Back to Bucha opens with a poem. A poem written by Phyllis Wheatley in 1784, an African American who captures the essence of what Ukrainians are fighting for: In every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of Freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance.
Unlike the original Trek to Bucha shot in the early days of the full-scale invasion, Back to Bucha is filled with women and their children. Beginning in April 2022 in the film’s opening scenes in Bucha we meet Tonya at a destroyed coffee shop, sweeping up broken glass and trying to reopen the shop at least enough to serve free coffee to the workers and neighbors who were still there.
Flash forward 10 months and we meet Tonya plus Julia, the shop’s owner. At the newly rebuilt Jul’s Coffee and Peace we get an upbeat and hopeful interview about Julia’s return with her family and the Spirit that drives them to rebuild. They believe God is watching over them.
Back to Bucha is filled with scenes of life in Ukraine during January and February 2023. From Lviv to Kyiv to Bucha we get the real-life realities of Ukrainians and what’s changed since we were there in April 2022 shooting Trek to Bucha – and what hasn’t. For instance we see at the Kyiv train station that the ubiquitous armed soldiers - and their guns - are largely gone in what is a fully functioning, if underpopulated, Kyiv. We see life going on pretty well actually, aside from the sirens and power outages which are part of the fabric of life.
Next in Kyiv the film takes us into a kindergarten where we get an interview with Andriana, a worker at the school. She tells us about the heartbreaking, though heartening day to day reality, of raising young children in Kyiv right now. We also get to meet several mothers of the students who talk about their experiences of first fleeing, and then returning to the city to raise their kids, in their homes, in their home country.
Next up is Father Roman of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, the first of several pastors in the film. He talks about how various faiths in Ukraine work together to support Ukraine. We also hear from the Ukrainian Orthodox rector of St. Andrew’s in Bucha, perhaps the most iconic building in Ukraine since the mass graves and atrocities on its grounds made international headlines after the Russian retreat in the early days of the war. Between the two interviews we get a good take on what is happening from a theological perspective. But they aren’t the only ones, We also run into a Presbyterian Texas pastor at his church in Lviv, as well as an online service conducted by a Russian speaking pastor who keeps his flock together online since fleeing Kharkiv with his family to Lviv.
We also reconnect with many of the young men from the first film. Young men of course have an added layer of concern to adapt to their new normal and “life interrupted-ness” that all Ukrainians experience. Young men in Ukraine live with the potential of being called into the military at any moment - and maybe even to the front lines. They are all ready.
A highlight is the return to the recently moved and reopened Match Bistro and an interview with Alex and Maxim whom we met in April 2022 when the previous Match was serving 1500+ meals a day with World Central Kitchen. We also meet up with Sasha at the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. Last time we saw him he and fellow students were organizing supply donations from all over the world for delivery to front line soldiers.
In Bucha we got together again with Lyubimyr who heads up the Youth Council for the city of Bucha. The interview takes place in the same basement where he and his neighbors spent the early days of the full-scale invasion sheltering and Bucha’s occupation by the Russians. We also see how a new toilet in there will save them from having to use buckets should the need ever rise again.
All of these encounters take place with Ukraine and the war as the backdrop. This includes walk arounds in Lviv, Kyiv, Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel where sirens were expected as were the power outages.
The film ends with a bittersweetness that is Ukraine when we tour the Kindergarten basement bomb shelter and hear how the children have come to enjoy their time there. Thanks to the dedicated staff at the school whom we see singing and dancing with the little ones in the film’s inspirational finale.
We are very excited to announce the Alabama premiere of Back to Bucha on Sunday, June 4th, 2023 At 1:00 PM (9PM Bucha Time). We are especially pleased to screen the film in such a great venue: Wilson Hall Theater at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The film’s director Steve Richards will be in attendance to lead the Q&A after the event that will also include Fr. Roman Nebozhuk online from Kyiv.
How this all came together so quickly shows just how spirit driven this documentary project can be. We premiered the film less than three weeks ago in Boston at the Christ the King Ukrainian Catholic Church on April 30th where Alex Gamota from Bear Witness was emcee. Bear Witness is the Executive Producer of the film.
The event was livestreamed on Facebook Live where Yaryna Zhurba from Global Ties Alabama was watching. How did she know about it? Alex had met with a friend of a friend at a Washington, DC event and told them about it. Within a few days we were confirming details with the University of Alabama in Huntsville. They are providing the theater, the staff, and much energy to make this effort a success. As a donation driven event this help is vital.
Fortunately, everybody likes the film and feel like it’s one that Americans should see. Why? Because it is hard not to support the Ukrainian people after the empathy the film engenders. The film shows people just like us dealing with Russia’s mayhem - especially the moms just trying to raise their families, in their own homes, in their own country, after returning to Kyiv and Bucha after the war’s early months.
There is no charge to attend the screening though donations are encouraged with 50% of the net proceeds going to: Global Ties Alabama, Project Cherkasy, and Bear Witness.
Tickets are available on Eventbrite where donations can also be made by clicking here.
For more info contact Steve Richards at 305.310.2634 (SteveR@TheoEco.org).
We had a wonderful premiere in Boston (standing room-only) on Sunday complete with a performance of the film’s theme “The War We Didn’t Ask For” from Valeriia Vovk and a Q&A session with some of the film’s stars live from Kyiv.
To celebrate we are making the film available for free to all through Sunday May 7th for those that missed the event, and for everybody who would like to watch the film at their leisure.
We are also allowing downloads for this period for those that might want to drop it to a thumb drive for others that can’t stream it.
To see the Facebook livestream of the entire two-and-a-half-hour event click here.