Ukraine: Kyiv seminary pillaged as Russian troops withdraw
By Salvatore Cernuzio
"The Russian military did this, but also some local people who are desperate, hungry... because everything is closed here, so they came to take food... At least they were able to feed themselves." This, said Father Ruslan Mykhalkiv, is what some Vorzel residents told us. Fr Ruslan is the rector of the Catholic theological seminary of Vorzel, in the Kyiv region, which has been destroyed in two attacks and has been ransacked of everything, from the chalice-relic of John Paul II to the rector's old shoes.
The bishop's Fb post
The news of the raid circulated thanks to a Facebook post by the bishop of the Latin Catholic diocese of Kyiv, Bishop Vitalii Kryvytsky, who also posted some photographs. One of these shows a statue of a decapitated Madonna. It looks like a gesture of desecration, but in reality, it is yet another effect of the devastation that has swept across Ukraine since 24 February.
The flight and the bombings
The day after the Russian attack, the rector fled with the seminarians and the residents of a nearby orphanage: two nuns and five children. "We had been preparing for days, aware that something might happen, just as it did". The area was occupied by the army and the group took refuge in a place a few kilometres away, on the road from Kyiv to Bucha, sadly known now for an atrocity described by the Pope as a "massacre" of civilians. Only the spiritual director, Father Igor, who is also the parish priest of the area, remained in the seminary. He stayed even after an attack that smashed windows and destroyed a small guest house next door, until just a few days ago. "They were missiles, or bombs, not big ones. They were launched on the fourth day after the war began. I know because the spiritual director sent us the photos", said Fr Ruslan.
Putting things back in place
Shortly afterward Fr. Igor also left the seminary when another 'heavy weapons' attack hit the facility, creating chaos inside and out. The Russian army had blocked the entrance to the area," Father Ruslan explained saying "We were only able to return last Thursday and we immediately discovered that the main door had been opened". Although the structure lacked water, electricity and gas, the rector and other priests agreed to return to put things right. "When we came back, we found everything wide open again, and inside, we realised that it wasn't just the bombings that had taken place".
Everything has been stolen
Everything was taken from the seminary: pots, routers, washing machines, computers, air conditioners, small tools. "They stole many liturgical objects and the silver chalice that John Paul II had used in a Mass during his apostolic visit to Ukraine in 2001. For us it was a kind of relic, we used it on important feast days. The bishop also mentioned the shoes that he used to run in, but that's really the last thing on his mind. The seminarians also had their shoes and clothes stolen.
"They were hungry..."
The larder was emptied: "We had something to live on, potatoes, pasta, canned goods. There was nothing left," the rector said. "And thank goodness," he repeated, "At least we know it was the Russians who looted the seminary because the people we brought food to told us so. They told us that they used a special technique to open the gate and break down the doors. But I think we were also robbed by some people who live here. Even before the war some desperate people used to steal small kitchen utensils. Now they've taken all the food. It's OK... There was food here and people were hungry. Everything is closed, where could they get things to eat? They had this idea, which may not be exactly according to conscience, but you have to understand the context of the war, of the occupation. They knew they could feed themselves. It's only fair..."
Or rather, the rector clarifies, "this is right, the rest is not".