Day 108

Ira Kapitonova is with Ivan Kapitonov and Dmytro Bereza

Oh grant us help against the foe,
for vain is the salvation of man!
With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes
(Psalm 108:12-13)

The war continues. Every evening, we hear the sounds of airplanes or missiles. Sometimes we see them, and sometimes we understand they are further away from us. Tonight there was a missile strike in Ternopil region, heavy shelling of villages in Dnipropetrovsk region, and bombing of villages in Sumy region. All of these are outside of the "active combat" zone. At the same time, the Ukrainian army has advanced some in Kherson region, that's been under Russian occupation since the first days of March. 

Tonight I came across an article about life in occupied Kherson (available in Ukrainian On March 1, the Russian troops entered the city and killed about 70 members of the territorial defense. That really shook the city, and even though Kherson was never known for great patriotic rallies, on March 5, up to 10,000 city residents came to the central square chanting, "Kherson is Ukraine!" They were persecuted, arrested, threatened, and shot at. Still, they kept coming together for pro-Ukrainian rallies until May 9, when only about 20 people showed up, and all of them were arrested. Over the past three months, over 1,000 people were abducted during or after these rallies. The whereabouts of most of them are still unknown. Many other people were also arrested and tortured to coerce them into cooperation.

Father Serhii of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is one of them. He has been volunteering as a military priest since 2014, so he was ready for the invasion and evacuated his family on the first day. On February 25, he organized a humanitarian headquarters at his church. People would bring the food they had to share. They also set up a hairdresser station and coffee machines in the church building to give people an opportunity to come together, talk, and find some peace. He was also finding ways to pass by Russian checkpoints - he would dress up as a Russian Orthodox priest to find and bring medication and hygiene products to people. On the first Sunday after the occupation, the church was flooded with people - they needed communication and comfort. And God was caring for his parish, providing everything at the right time. Once, someone donated lactose-free milk, and moments later, a lactose intolerant person showed up asking if they had any. Another time, they needed a printer to print announcement posters, and it was donated in seven minutes! "God was giving us everything I was asking for!" says Father Serhii.

On March 30, Father Serhii was arrested. He was kept in a basement, not allowed to use the bathroom, and given vodka instead of water when thirsty. They undressed him, beat him up, and threatened to rape him. They kept asking questions about the region's territorial defense and Ukrainian military groups. They let him go after forcing him to sign a collaboration agreement with the FSB (Russian KGB). 

Father Serhii knew it wasn't safe for him to stay. On April 6, he secretly left his home. Once again, he pretended to be a Russian Orthodox priest and would greet and bless soldiers at Russian checkpoints. That's how he got out. He spent time in a hospital and only recently started talking without stuttering. He keeps taking care of his parish - he found a retired priest who agreed to replace him and sends them money. Father Serhii keeps serving as a priest in various locations, first looking for people displaced from Kherson. He still can't sleep at night.

That's just one story, and my blood chills when I think about thousands of other stories from Kherson region that will never be shared publically.

A volunteer who works with children in Poland shared a warning on the doors of all playrooms at volunteer centres. "Balloons forbidden." What a great tragedy behind these two words. How much pain...

My niece woke up this morning asking, "Is the battle/[war] over?" I guess that's what she dreamed about. Her question moved me to tears because this is the question we all wake up with and search for answers to in the newsfeed. And that's what we pray for every day.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!
That your beloved ones may be delivered,
give salvation by your right hand and answer me!
(Psalm 108:5-6)

(Today's picture - a kid looks through the window of the evacuation bus. June 3, Pokrovsk, the Donetsk region. Photo by Serhii Korovainyi)