‘I am a mess’: Teacher’s personal link to the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Blackfriars’ landmark Aquinas Centre has been lit up in yellow and blue in a show of support for the people of Ukraine. 

The Aquinas Centre joins buildings across Adelaide, and the world, to display the colours of the Ukrainian flag, amid the Russian invasion. 

Drama Teacher Bob Becker, one of several Blackfriars staff members with Ukrainian heritage, said the situation in his parents’ homeland was “horrific”. 

“My parents were refugees. They left in 1949. They were refugees from war-torn Europe at the end of World War II and there is quite a big Ukrainian community that established itself in Australia … because they had no home to go back to,” said Mr Becker, whose wife, Romana, is also Ukrainian. 

“I’ve still got very close family on my mother’s and my father’s side both in Kyiv and in western Ukraine and Romana … she has family, her brother, her mother and so forth. 

“So, that means, when I used to have a coffee in the morning and my toast, I now wake up and look at the phone … and see whether they’re still alive.

“My wife and I try to ring the people that we can have access to. Often when we can talk to them in the evening, there are air-raid sirens going off … they are in bunkers, in shelters, underground.” 

A clearly emotional Mr Becker, whose extended family in Ukraine are heavily involved with the Catholic church and with Caritas, shared pictures of the bunker in which his family, still in Ukraine, had been forced to shelter in recent days. 

“But there’s a very upbeat feeling that they are going to overcome,” said Mr Becker, who, outside his work at Blackfriars, also teaches Ukrainian as a Stage 2 SACE subject. 

“I try and steel myself; I try to get to work because I just need to keep my mind occupied and just do work, but I am a mess.” 

He said the show of support for Ukrainians from Blackfriars, as well as the wider South Australian and Australian communities, meant a lot. 

“It’s incredibly uplifting to see the Sydney Opera House being lit up, to see Parliament House being lit up in blue and yellow, to see the Aquinas Centre,” he said.  

“People like me … who are feeling really fragile – really fragile, I’m on edge – it helps so much, just that feeling of support.” 

Blackfriars Principal David Ruggiero said lighting the Aquinas Centre in blue and yellow was a simple way of showing the school’s support for and solidarity with the Ukrainian people. 

“We are witnessing in Ukraine the manifestation of pure evil and toxic masculinity expressed through Vladimir Putin’s insatiable appetite for power, prestige, and possessions,” Mr Ruggiero said.  

“During this time of Lent, Christians worldwide are called to let go of these obsessions and use our energy for prayer, love, forgiveness, and generosity.  

“All we have is our communal faith and prayers, the same faith that moved men and women to change the world, demolish the Berlin Wall, and slash the Iron Curtain.” 


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