Chernihiv priest: For us Ukrainians there will be a resurrection
By Svitlana Dukhovych
“On Sunday morning, Jesus’ disciples went to the tomb where His body was laid and found it empty. In the same way, the subways and air-raid shelters of Ukrainian cities will one day be empty, because Christ has risen and for us too there will be a resurrection.”
Father Roman Hrydkovets, a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest, often uses this comparison when he speaks to the inhabitants of Chernihiv, the Ukrainian city where he arrived in December last year to carry out his priestly service and where he has remained despite the dangers of war.
It is no coincidence that Fr Roman spoke of the shelters: from the very beginning of the Russian invasion, he decided that his mission was to be where the people were – in the cellars – and to offer them a word of comfort and hope.
The shelter that became the first parish
Fr Roman is from Kyiv, where he studied in the seminary before completing his missionology studies in Rome. He was ordained a priest last year, and in December he was sent to Chernihiv, the capital of the region of the same name, in northern Ukraine on the border with Belarus and the Russian Federation.
There, he was asked to found a new Greek Catholic community. “The parish existed only on paper,” he says with a smile. “There was nothing yet: no people, no church, no land to build it on. I had to start from the beginning.”
Although he had no parish, the young priest decided to stay in Chernihiv when the war broke out.
“People started hiding in shelters and I felt it was my mission to be with them. On the first night, 24-25 February, I went to a big shelter, where there were many people. I put on my cassock, took out my Bible, and just stood there with them, praying in silence. I still didn’t know exactly what I was supposed to do, but then I started to get to know the people and invite them to pray together. As most of the people were non-practising, I would give them an intention (for example, for peace) and a short invocation, ‘God save us!’ There were also many children in these cellars. The drawings on the walls prove it.”
Every night, before going to sleep, the young priest with the beard and the cheerful eyes would gather them around him and tell them a story.
An oratory in the basement
In Chernihiv, the war has been felt from day one. The city was surrounded by the Russian army, which launched missiles, hitting administrative and residential buildings, schools, and hospitals, causing civilian casualties.
There were days when the humanitarian situation in the city was very critical, especially after 25 March, when Russian soldiers destroyed the bridge across the Desna river, blocking the arrival of humanitarian aid. On 5 April, the Russian army withdrew from the Chernihiv region.
At the moment, says Fr Roman, there is almost no one in the shelters. Only people whose houses were destroyed by the shelling remain.
“One of these cellars,” Fr Roman continues, “has become a meeting place for families with children that I met when we were hiding from the shelling. They come every night to hear my stories again. It has become almost a tradition.”
Praying to heal the soul
The priest also recounts the difficult times when he tried to support people who had suffered so much and were shocked by cruelty, violence, and injustice.
“It is natural for anger to arise, so I would stand by their side, let them talk and then invite them to pray to God to sustain us and deliver us from the enemy’s attack.”
Bearing witness to God’s love, which is not abstract
“Christ saved our souls, and the Church must bear witness to this in times of peace as well as in times of war,” adds Fr Roman Hrydkovets.
According to him, the mission of Christians is to bear witness to God’s love – but this love is not something abstract. It also includes love for one’s homeland and being ready to defend it when necessary.
"Above all, we must help people to understand that there is someone who has saved their soul, and even if their body dies, the soul is immortal."