I was beaten because I am Greek Catholic, says Fr. Tikhon Kulbaka, former hostage of Russian terrorists
On September 30, under the educational project ‘Informatics and Applied Security Center of the city’ in Lviv, Father Tikhon Kulbaka spoke about his captivity, the power of prayer in war, and whether there is interreligious conflict in Donbas.
For nearly two months upon release the priest could not talk about his captivity, as this still might do harm to his parishioners. On July 4, the terrorists of the “Russian Orthodox Army” took him hostage and held him in captivity for ten days.
“Still I do not know where I was kept: there was a real silence and the smell of the forest. I had my eyes closed, which gave hope that I could stay alive. If they do not want you to see, there is a chance to be released once,” recalls Fr. Tikhon.
“I was pushed against the wall and told to pray. I began to pray in a loud voice. Automatic fire sounded above my head. I had never heard how an automatic gun sounds in the silence of the forest and so close to me. I fainted. The next time I was taken somewhere I knew they would repeat this ritual, but every time I was wondering whether it would be above my head or already in my head”.
Father Tikhon has diabetes, which aggravated his situation in captivity: he has to drink special medication every day. Though, the priest enjoyed such an opportunity only in the first two days.
“They took away the pills, saying, ‘You are our enemy! You're going to die long and slow, unless you convert.” ‘Conversion’, to their mind, was a renunciation of the UGCC and transition to the Moscow Patriarchate,” says the priest.
Prisoners were fed only bread that is similar to poison for diabetics. “I was so awfully thirsty – it came down to hallucinations, I saw myself swimming in the water. The first thing I did upon release – I drank 6 liters of water in a gulp,” says Father Tikhon.
“Terrorists had access to my email, Facebook page, and they knew I was sought for. One of them said: “They are naive, they believe that something depends on them: if Moscow says to kill you, I will kill you, if they let you go – I’ll let you go.”
“When I asked them what my fault was, one of them said: “You prayed for Ukraine! Imagine in 1942 anyone praying for the victory of Stalin in central Berlin. Hitler would kill them on the spot.” The only thing that could save us then might be a prayer for Novorossia.
From the beginning of the conflict in Donbas Father Tikhon was one of the organizers of the Prayer Maidan in Donetsk. First there was ecumenical environment: the Roman and Greek Catholics, Orthodox of the Kyiv Patriarchate, Protestants were taking part, and later it turned into an interreligious prayer when Muslims and Buddhists joined them. “Our Prayer Maidan was the last place where one could see Ukrainian symbols,” says Father Tikhon.
There have been many attempts to disperse the Prayer Maidan in Donetsk. “Once we were surrounded by armed men and a Protestant pastor fell to his knees. Woman with gun started screaming, “Stop him, and don’t let him pray. I cannot stand it.” I am truly convinced that above all these people are possessed by the power of an evil spirit.”
According to Fr. Tikhon, there is no religious conflict in Donbas. “There had never been any conflict, either between the clergy, or between the faithful of the Moscow Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. In a personal conversation Press-secretary of the Diocese of Donetsk of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) Fr. Georgy Gulyaev commented on a letter of Patriarch Kirill accusing ‘Uniates’ of heating up the conflict, saying, “You know, what I see here on site and what is written by higher-ups are the two different things.” However, the absence of conflict does not prevent the Moscow Patriarchate clergy from repeating this Patriarch’s wording. I think it's an attempt to pass the Donbas conflict as religious war,” summed up Fr. Tikhon, head of the Ecumenical department of Donetsk Exarchate of the UGCC.