Special Report: Devotees in Ukraine Continue On Despite Fears, Instability
February 25, 2022 3 PM EST
Members of the Governing Body Commission (GBC) were given a report by leaders aware of the Ukrainian situation earlier today. What follows are selected highlights of that report, with additional information provided by other devotees familiar with the current circumstances.
Thousands of devotees of Lord Krishna live in Ukraine, and they worship at approximately twenty ISKCON communities there. These include the largest temple in the capital city of Kyiv, various other cities, and some rural communities. Despite the dangerous situation in the country, at this point, there have been no reports of ISKCON devotees being injured.
In Kyiv, devotees have boarded up the ground floor windows of the multi-storied temple structure. The Temple building also has two floors underground, that can serve as an underground bunker—if needed. There have been reports of missiles in the area of the temple. Many devotee families living near the Kyiv temple have relocated to the temple, which is safer than some individual apartments. Devotees, while fearful, are taking shelter of prayer, kirtan, and Vaishnava sanga. Devotees at the temple in Kyiv have sufficient food stored to last a while, so that is not an immediate concern.
Devotees around the world are asking how to help. In Mayapur, ISKCON’s global headquarters, special pujas to Lord Nrsimhadeva are being offered today and over the next few days, asking for protection of the Ukrainian Vaishnavas. Devotees in other parts of the world, including India, the US, Hungary, and the UK, are organizing special kirtans (prayer vigils) to pray for the protection of the devotees, and other innocent people in Ukraine, and for peace in the region.
It is difficult to predict if the situation will lead to a large refugee crisis. ISKCON leaders in Europe are considering how they can best help, perhaps by increasing Hare Krishna Food Relief programs. They are also considering how to support devotees from Ukraine if many leave the country.
Radha Krishna das, GBC of Southeast Europe, including Hungary and Romania, reported that the Hungarian yatra is already considering how they can provide shelter for devotees, especially women and children, that may flee. “If the problems escalate further,” Radha Krishna reported, “in whatever way Hungary can help, devotees will be welcome here.”
While some Ukrainians want to leave the country, males between the age of 16 and 60+ are not allowed to immigrate. This has slowed the exodus of families who do not want to be separated from their fathers, sons, or brothers.
Nrisimha Kavaca das, ISKCON Deity Minister, raised concerns about the safety of the Deities in the ISKCON temples in Ukraine during the GBC meeting. The Sri Sri Radha Madhava deities in Kyiv, are about 6 ‘ tall and weigh one ton each. Thus, moving them is very difficult, and is not planned. Smaller Deities in other parts of the country may be moved, as needed, for their temporary safety.
Many GBC members asked where devotees outside Ukraine can send money to help with prasadam distribution or other aid. At this time, they were informed no money can enter the country. So it’s not possible now to arrange a large-scale ISKCON global effort. There is an authorized Food for Life program in the east, in Donetsk, that receives money through an account in Russia. There are no programs we are aware of to provide to people in the western regions.
Govardhan das, GBC for South Africa, told the GBC that he has a team of devotees trained in trauma counseling that can be made available to help “if needed, in the future.”
Patri das, who was attending the meeting as a representative of the SABHA, reported that he has relatives in Ukraine. While none have been harmed, some have been separated from loved ones due to military actions.
The GBC members offered their prayers in support of the Ukrainian Vaishnavas, and ask that devotees around the world pray for them and their safety.
ISKCON News will update these reports as the news unfolds.
Jun 25, 2022
Radhapriya Chawla, ISKCON Toronto Communications