A priest who works closely with the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Kyiv said that if the Russian military manages to take over the capital city, the Church will be “target number two.”
“Our military is target number one, and then all those who are not going to support [Russia’s] invasion,” including the Church, will be the second object of Moscow’s attack, said Fr. Volodymyr Malchyn, who works in the Patriarchal Curia of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. “You know the history of our Church. We have no illusions about that.”
Fr. Malchyn spoke with Aleteia in the hours after the Russian Federation launched its invasion of Ukraine, hitting Kyiv and other cities with aerial bombardments. Like most priests of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which is the largest Eastern Catholic Church in communion with Rome but which follows Orthodox practices, liturgy and spirituality, Fr. Malchyn is married. He said that as soon as he and his wife heard the bombardments outside the capital city at around 5:30 on Thursday morning, they decided to evacuate their children to Western Ukraine and leave them with Malchyn’s parents.
The family was one of the first to drive out of the city. Fr. Malchyn said that about an hour later, the roads were jammed with people trying to flee.
He said he will likely leave his family in the rural area near Lviv, while he returns to his duties in the capital, which include pastoring a parish and serving as head of the development and communications office in the Archeparchy of Kyiv-Halych. But it will be a fluid situation for some time.
“If the attack will be more severe on Kyiv, I think all priests will be forced to move to safe places,” he said, adding that Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, is still in Kyiv. “But I don’t know how long he’ll be able to stay there.”
Malchyn said it was his understanding that some monasteries in Western Ukraine will open their doors to people fleeing from hostilities. But, depending on how the war proceeds, he expects there will be many more internally displaced persons than churches and monasteries can handle. He was working with another official of the Church to issue an appeal letter to donors and partners for humanitarian aid.
“We do need help from international donor organizations, because these are unprecedented times,” he said. “We have experience helping people fleeing the Donbas area [in the eight-year long conflict with Russian separatists in the East of Ukraine], but that’s a relatively small area. There were 1.5 million IDPs from that, but now the numbers can be much higher. The attacks are more severe and heinous.”
“All that is dearest to us”
When Fr. Malchyn commented, “You know the history of our Church. We have no illusions,” he referred to the period shortly after the Soviet Union retook control of Ukraine at the end of the Second World War. Authorities soon moved to suppress the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, killing or imprisoning its bishops and forcing believers to be part of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Greek Catholic Church lived an underground existence until the late 1980s, and its leader, Cardinal Josyf Slipyj, died in exile in Rome.
Today’s successor to Cardinal Slipyj, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, might face a similar struggle in the months ahead, depending on the outcome of this war. Today, he canceled plans to attend an international forum called “Mediterranean – Border of Peace” in Florence in order to remain with his flock in Kyiv. On Thursday, Archbishop Shevchuk issued an emotional letter in which he defended his country’s right to fight for its freedom and self-determination.
“The treacherous enemy, despite his own commitments and assurances, breaking the basic norms of international law, as an unjust aggressor, stepped on Ukrainian soil, bringing with him death and destruction,” the major archbishop wrote. “Our Ukraine, which the world fairly called ‘lands of blood,’ which has been so many times sprinkled with the blood of martyrs and fighters for the freedom and independence of its people, calls us today to stand up for it – to defend its dignity before God and humanity, its rights for existence and the right to choose one’s future.”
He said that it is the “natural right and sacred duty” of Ukrainians to defend its land, people, state “and all that is dearest to us: family, language and culture, history and the spiritual world. We are a peaceful nation that loves children of all nations with Christian love, regardless of origin or belief, nationality or religious identity.”
Referring to the Church’s liberation with the collapse of the Soviet Union, he said that it has already experienced “death and resurrection.”
“In this dramatic moment, our Church, as a mother and teacher will be with its children, will protect them and serve them in the name of God,” Shevchuk wrote. “Today we solemnly proclaim: “Our soul and body we offer for our freedom! With one heart we pray: “Lord, Great Almighty, protect our beloved Ukraine!”