Concern for two priests detained in southeastern Ukraine
By Linda Bordoni
Ukrainian Redemptorist priests Father Ivan Levitskyi and Father Bohdan Heleta have been in detention since their arrest by Russian services who accuse them of subversive activities.
They were serving in the port city of Berdyansk in southeastern Ukraine and reportedly find themselves in a pre-trial detention center run by the Russian administration on charges of preparing a terrorist act.
Berdyansk is in the Zaporizhzhia region of Ukraine occupied by Russia since its invasion in February 2022.
A statement sent to the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need said "The Redemptorist Fathers, detained by the Russian militias, provided pastoral assistance to the Greek-Catholic and Latin-rite Catholic parishes and are among the few remaining in the occupied territories".
According to Bishop Stepan Meniok, of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Exarchate of Donetsk, who signed the statement, the detention is "unfounded and illegal".
Father Ivan Levitskyi, parish priest of the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary in the city of Berdyansk, and Father Bohdan Heleta, chaplain of the same church, were reportedly imprisoned in a pre-trial detention center in Berdyansk.
The statement sent to ACS said the priests were falsely accused of possessing weapons and explosives.
"The priests have been in the priestly ministry for more than three years and legitimately carry out their pastoral activity in the local parish, announcing a message of peace for all", Bishop Meniok said.
Denial of basic human rights
The accusations against the two priests were promptly denied by the Exarchate of Donetsk which immediately called for their "speedy release."
In an interview with Vatican Radio’s Svitlana Dukovych, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Exarchate, Maksim Ryabukha decried what he described as "a complete denial of the fundamental principles of human rights" for the two priests, who had been “legally” carrying out their ministry for more than three years.
"They were arrested and then had their religious house and church searched and then, in order to find an excuse, they invented the story of hidden books and weapons,” he said.
“These are invented stories” to fuel fear, he added, “because the news obviously also affects all the Catholic faithful in the region".
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