“At Zaporozhye there are about 10,000 Russian troops and plenty of military equipment. We have already witnessed fierce fighting here and yet now we are to see an even greater onslaught. All that holds us together is prayer and the solidarity of the whole world; we need your prayers!” urges Bishop Jan Sobillo, who has loyally remained with his flock since the very beginning of the Donbass war in 2014.
Easter was relatively peaceful in Zaporozhye, although there were complications. The regional governor asked people not to gather in large groups for religious celebrations due to the threat of Russian gunfire. Therefore, priests increased the number of Holy Masses, which were also followed online by the faithful in the occupied territories.
“Eastern Ukraine is in for the hardest time since the outbreak of the war. We know that each day may be our last one. God is our only hope,” said auxiliary bishop of Kharkiv and Zaporozhye in an interview with the Vatican Radio.
As Bishop Sobillo indicated, “Russians have pulled out of the Kyiv area and focused on Donbass. At Zaporozhye there are about 10,000 Russian troops and plenty of military equipment – tanks, cannons and armored vehicles. We have already witnessed fierce fighting here, yet we are to see an even greater onslaught. Therefore, our faithful, although they still come to church, are aware that at any moment the fighting may become too fierce for us to gather in the church building. That is why they use the opportunity to attend Holy Mass even on an ordinary day, as they realize that this may no longer be a possibility in the future.
We are hopeful that it may still be possible to evacuate people from Mariupol, where the situation is the most tragic, and also from the occupied villages. All that holds us together is prayer and the solidarity of the whole world, especially Poland.
Zaporozhye continues to receive aid, so that we have something to share with people. We therefore have everything we need for everyday life but we are aware that tomorrow this could change completely. Therefore, we thank God for every day, but time is difficult, the end of the war is nowhere in sight.
The occupying forces are growing in strength, but the spirit of the Ukrainian people is truly invincible. We therefore hope that Ukraine will win the war, which will benefit not only our country, which will finally be free of its oppressor, but also Europe and the entire world.”
Easter in the war’s shadow
The bishop said that for safety reasons it was impossible to have a joint Easter breakfast, yet all received parcels from humanitarian aid organizations. Italians, for instance, sent Easter cakes.
“This coming Sunday is going to be an ecumenical holiday; the Catholics will celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday and the Orthodox will commemorate the Resurrection of the Lord,” says the bishop, who promises that whenever possible, humanitarian aid parcels will be again distributed among Ukrainians.
“We want all to feel that the Divine Mercy is concerned with our spiritual purity and strength, yet the Merciful Jesus also cares for what we are going to eat.”
The bishop indicated that the number of people in need is growing by the day. They receive hot meals from the kitchen of the Albertine friars. A second wave of evacuations is taking place; these are mainly women and children who want to find shelter in more peaceful parts of Ukraine before the imminent offensive of Russian troops.
“All that holds us together is prayer and the solidarity of the whole world; we urgently need your prayers,” appealed Bishop Sobillo, who has spent in Eastern Ukraine all the eight years of the war begun in 2014.