Parishioners gather at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead Sunday morning. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The local community’s response to the humanitarian aid drive organized by St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead has been overwhelming and uplifting, Rev. Bohdan Hedz, the church’s pastor said today.

“We were hoping to fill one truckload with items by Friday,” Hedz said, “instead we filled four truckloads.”

Peconic Bay Medical Center donated two truckloads of medical supplies, he said.

This morning, at the conclusion of the first of two Sunday liturgical services at the Riverhead church, Hedz updated parishioners on the status of the church’s efforts.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” the soft-spoken, bespectacled Ukrainian-born priest told those gathered for the English-language service.

Members of the congregation have volunteered long hours and worked tirelessly late into the night to organize and pack the donated items collected by the church.

Volunteers, including the pastor, have driven a cargo van filled with donations to a drop-off point in New Jersey, from which the supplies are shipped to Ukraine.

Hedz asked for patience. “I’ve had people yell at me,” Hedz said, when he’s told them the church cannot accept donations of items right now that aren’t on a list of immediate needs requested by volunteers in Ukraine.

“I never say no. I say please hold on to it. We’ll need it later, but right now we need these things,” he said. “So please don’t be angry with me. Please don’t yell at me. We’re constrained for our space. We don’t have a big warehouse to store things,” Hedz said.

The list of items currently being accepted appears below.

‘Evil will be defeated’

The priest then addressed reports he’s heard of people making “threatening” posts to social media against members of the Russian community.

“Please do not do this. Do not be like the Russian aggressors who are attacking our homeland. They are living by threats and fear,” Hedz said.

“I understand everybody’s emotional. Everybody is angry. Everybody is sad. There’s a lot of emotions. If you know Russians that are supporting Putin and live next door to you, don’t talk to them. Pray for them. Pray for them,” he urged.

“Don’t make threats. Don’t be like that. Don’t be like the people that are now crucifying our homeland. Be better — and you can be better,” he said.

“I’m telling you this as your spiritual leader. Take that negative energy and channel it into something good. Come here and help,” he said.

Then Hedz turned to the subject of the war itself and the images of devastation and despair coming out of his native land.

“Cities are being decimated and leveled to the ground. It’s sad for me to see pictures of cities I knew, I’ve been to. I’ve walked those streets — they are nonexistent now,” Hedz said.

“Official statistics say 38 children have died. I’m afraid the number might be bigger. This is just something unbelievable,” he said.

“I hope that the world will open their minds and start acting. The politicians are afraid of Mr. Putin but the common people are not afraid. And I’ve seen this outcry and I’ve seen the response of the local communities. These simple people — they understand,” Hedz said.

He urged parishioners to get in touch with their elected officials.

“Tell them what you think, tell them what they should do. You elected them. They are your representatives, so talk to them. Tell them. We have to be vocal,” he said.

“Each of us has our part to do and whatever your can do, do. That’s what our call is — to stand up to evil.”

He urged people not to lose their faith. “Push harder. Pray harder. And we will win. Make no mistake. We will win. Evil will be defeated,” Hedz said.

“Mr. Putin got it wrong. He said the war would be over in three or four days. He was wrong. It’s now entering the 11th day. We are still here. Ukraine is still here,” the priest said.

St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church in Riverhead on March 6. Photo: Denise Civiletti

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