Lifelong Ukrainian Friendships

Bradley Mattes   |   March 03, 2022

The outcome of the war in Ukraine has increased significance to those who have friends or family in this battered nation.

My history with the Ukrainian people dates back to 1993, just two years after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Americans were a novelty then; most Ukrainians had not yet even heard the English language spoken.

In the process of our pro-life mission there we were richly blessed in traditional Ukrainian fashion.

The mobile medical units that provided healthcare services to Ukrainians

An American organization, Thoughts of Faith, donated two mobile medical units to the Ukrainian people. I and a dear friend, Ann Warner (now Tolly) were brought in to help set up pro-life pregnancy counseling as a part of the medical services offered. Ukraine’s dire economic situation frightened many women into having abortions.

We came equipped with sets of fetal models and hand-held replicas of twelve-week unborn babies. In addition, we brought pro-life brochures on fetal development translated into Ukrainian, along with other teaching aids.

Brad with the family who hosted us to dinner. A fun time of fellowship & singing.

During our time there Ann and I experienced heartwarming hospitality that we will never forget.

On one occasion a university student heard our lecture on campus and invited us to dine with her family. In their difficult economy it was common for three generations to live in one flat, as was the case with this family. Our hosts put on a feast they could ill afford. Even so, we all delighted in our meal, the fellowship and beautiful song while the student served as our translator.

On Saturday, a rare day off from lecturing and teaching, we found ourselves in the Ternopil city square where a wedding party was taking pictures in front of the fountain. It was tradition that they would have a civil wedding ceremony, followed by pictures in the square and then stop at a photographer before heading to the wedding reception.

The wedding party we met in Ternopil’s town square.

When asked, the bride and groom graciously allowed us to take their picture. As we began to walk away, the father of the bride invited us to the reception. We were hesitant to accept because of our casual dress and American social norms that you don’t crash wedding festivities.

Our translator told us that we would bestow a great honor on the group if we accepted. He was unable to accompany us, however, one of the guests spoke some broken English, so we gladly entrusted our afternoon to people we didn’t know in a foreign country. As we stood in line to board an old school bus used to transport wedding guests, the bride’s father waved his finger at us and was shaking his head. I whispered to Ann that he probably had a change of heart about the invitation.

But that wasn’t the case at all. He pointed to a car decorated with streamers, indicating that we would have special transportation. On the way there, we stopped at a photographer where the wedding party and attendees assembled on bleachers for a group photo. Ann and I stood off to the side, but they would have none of it. We were to be included in the picture, and weeks after our trip, the image arrived in the mail. We were officially part of the family!

A Ukrainian wedding cake.

The reception was nothing like we had experienced before. Ann and I were seated at a place of honor near the head table. People doted on us at every turn. The food was amazing and the conversation – made possible by creative communication – was interesting and fun.

At one point the bride and groom received well wishes from the attendees. Women offered the bride a flower and the men slipped a few coupons (the currency at the time) into the groom’s hand.

The American dollar had far more purchasing power over the Ukrainian coupon, and I didn’t want to come off as a showy American tourist, but a twenty-dollar bill was the smallest denomination I had, which at the time was several months’ pay for this young man.

The bride & groom accept well wishes from guests.

So as Ann presented the bride with a flower, the groom discretely slipped my folded contribution into his pocket without looking at it. I sometimes wonder what they thought when later that night the groom counted their gifts!

We spent five or six hours with these wonderful people, and they cried when we left. They will always have a special place in our hearts.

Ukrainians are proud of their country, their people and their culture, and most harbor a fierce attitude against Russia. Not just because of the invasion but due to the long history of the big nation treating Ukraine as a territorial possession. That’s why we never refer to Ukraine as “The Ukraine” because it designates it as a bordering property of Russia.

Please keep the people of Ukraine in your prayers. May God deliver them from Russia just as David delivered the Israelites from Goliath.


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6 thoughts on “Lifelong Ukrainian Friendships

  1. We have my mother’s relatives in Lviv, so it has been extremely sad for me. We have more family in Toronto who have met them. Your message has reminded me of what get togethers at my grandmother’s home for many years! We sang, danced and ate all day.
    I’m so happy that you went to Ukraine and tasted the LOVE Ukrainians possess and give so freely. God Bless all of you….

  2. I was there recertifying their counselors for Gift of Life in 2007. Left a permanent impression on my heart, and I’ve never looked at the world the same since.
    God bless Ukraine, Thoughts of Faith and all who are in harm’s way.

  3. Oh Brad!
    This article brought so many memories back for me as well, as I went there with Sue and Larry Dilgard in 1998, and then several of them came to America and stayed at our house in 2004 or 2005. I remember going with the Dilgard’s to the mobile clinics. Today I had an Instagram conversation with Alla Tymchak in Ukraine and comforted her with prayers. Thank you for asking everyone to pray for those wonderful people.

  4. Dear Brad… I was crying and laughing as I read the story of our trip to Ukraine. How blessed we were to be loved and cared for by these, our brothers and sisters in Christ. What a privilege and JOY it was to serve our mighty Lord God with you. Our prayers are now joined by thousands for these hurting, most brave people that walked so deeply into our hearts. Thank you for the memories.

  5. Thank you Brad for this wonderful delineation of Ukraine culture traditions and values and how they comport with the right to life from womb to tomb democracy judo Christian values and the hope of families raising children in a healthy way all of these marvelous our deeds and values are so manifested in the peoples behaviors attitude and values of Ukraine it is quite compelling and amazing and beautiful and hopeful thank you for your comments about the weddings and the great traditions of love caring and sharing in that beautiful country I am my prayer group and my parish I’m praying assiduously ardently and with hope that the lord will intervene expeditiously and facilitate a peace quickly the invasion was horrible I won’t go into that any further now the leadership in Russia is abysmal more over it is evil in essence but we must pray for renewal and reformation always thank you Brad for this wonderful inspiring poignant presentation peace love and prayers out to you your family your institute your goals and of course to the suffering people of Ukraine peace and love

  6. Thank you Brad for this wonderful account of your time in Ukraine. I, too, was in Ternopil (in 1996), visiting a friend who was there for several years doing adoption and pro-life work. I was so touched by the hospitality of the pro-life Ukrainians I met, and thrilled to see churches being restored. My heart breaks for these dear people today.

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