By Gina Christian
PHILADELPHIA — A broken rosary has become the inspiration to heal the war-torn nation of Ukraine, thanks to the efforts of a Philadelphia-area Ukrainian Catholic man and a dedicated group of volunteers.
Several years ago, 38-year-old Dorian Kernytsky of Rockledge, Pennsylvania, was given a replica of a World War I-style rosary — a rugged, bead-chain chaplet made of stainless steel favored by thousands of U.S. soldiers on the battlefield.
The only problem was that one decade was missing two beads.
Hoping to repair the rosary, Kernytsky contacted the manufacturer, who instead sent a replacement.
But Kernytsky, an IT technical support professional, was reluctant to discard the incomplete rosary, and set about trying to fix it.
“I saw how simple it was,” he said. “And I thought, wow, I can make a lot of these very quickly.”
He began purchasing tools and materials — and as a first-generation descendant of Ukrainian immigrants, Kernytsky immediately knew to whom he could give his handmade rosaries, the design of which had initially been forged for what was then called “the war to end all wars.”
“It was easy to go from the World War I rosary to one for the Ukrainian troops, and then to making lots of them,” said Kernytsky, a member of the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Philadelphia.
Along with his Ukrainian heritage, Kernytsky drew on his deep devotion to the rosary — and his fellow rosary group members — to launch his project, which he named “Our Lady’s Weapon.”
Months before rolling up their sleeves to fashion the rosaries, group members had begun meeting online regularly to pray this Marian devotion, days before Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine Feb. 24, 2022.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine followed attacks it began in 2014 with the attempted annexation of Crimea and the backing of separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
With some 66,000 war crimes reported since February 2022, Ukraine has filed charges of genocide by Russia with the International Court of Justice.
More than 16,200 Ukrainian children have been abducted by Russia over the past year, according to Ukraine’s government. On March 17, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, charging the two with the war crimes of “unlawful deportation” and “unlawful transfer” of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
“I just couldn’t help but think of Our Lady of Fatima, and (her) talking about the evils of Russia and praying the rosary,” said Kernytsky, referencing the 1917 Marian apparitions in Portugal during which Mary is said to have asked for the consecration of Russia to prevent that nation from causing war and persecution of the church.
The nearly 20 volunteers for Our Lady’s Weapon include women who are refugees from Ukraine, whose husbands and fathers are now fighting to defend their homeland, said Kernytsky.
So far, the group has made more than 800 rosaries for Ukrainian soldiers, which have been blessed by Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Archeparchy of Philadelphia and sent to Ukraine’s Garrison Church of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Lviv. The 17th-century church, bombed during World War II and used as a book depository under communism, was transferred to the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Lviv in 2010, and now serves as the main church of the military chaplaincy.
In Ukraine, the rosaries have been blessed as well by Ukrainian Catholic Bishop Stepan Sus, then distributed to soldiers. Although the majority of them are Orthodox rather than Catholic, Kernytsky noted that Orthodox believers “do have a devotion to the rosary.”
Kernytsky said he hopes that the rosaries, which are large enough to be worn by soldiers, offer solace while serving as means of evangelization.
In particular, he hopes to promote devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Divine Mercy and St. Joan of Arc by adding medals with those images to the rosaries.
“Ukrainians don’t know about St. Joan of Arc,” he said. “This young girl turned the tides of a forever war (the Hundred Years War), and this has been a forever war between Russia and Ukraine. I’d like to change that.”
Kernytsky said the rosary is a long-range spiritual armament “that changes hearts” for the long term.
“I know God’s will for Ukraine is very much through Our Lady,” he said. “It’s only when individuals surrender themselves (to God) that their hearts really do change.”