Priest-chaplain of the zone of ATO: “soldiers told me it was God who saved them in the battlefield and not armor”
For Ukrainian soldiers in the East the role of the priest is important more than ever. It is an important mission - to give hope to soldiers and show that God is always there beside them. A RISU journalisttalked to a military chaplain if the UGCC Fr.AndrewKhomyshyn about his experience of service in war. In August, he spent a week at the base camp in Luhansk region, from which the fighters went to the "flash points". The conversation turned from a classic interview format intoreflections, as we present it.
I was shocked when I came to the ATO zone. As a military chaplain, I was ready for what I saw. I remember that I was going here with a view to serve at least one Mass for our soldiers. I knew that I must be there.
There were very different people in the places that I served, but most of them were volunteers from Lviv. Some of them had experience of military service. Others were holding guns in their hands for the first time. And there were also lots of activists from Maidan. They had stood up in Kyiv, and then went to the East. All of them came to defend their homeland.
I cannot say that in the camp one and all converted or became religious, or that there was a huge rush to talk to a priest. However, I saw a huge zeal to God. It was a great insight, because in such difficult conditions people are really more aware of spiritual needs. Each soldier had a rosary. It seemed to be a part of ammunition, body armor or a helmet. In the camp where I stayed the soldiers even arranged a tent church, but later, when the shelling began, it was destroyed. According to another military chaplain, Fr Andrew Zelinski, the ATO zone is a zone of authenticity. There the people show their best and worst qualities, and people do not care because of religious differences.
In the ATO the people change a great deal. They begin to appreciate the everyday things much more than before the war. For example, the peacethat we used not to pay much attention to previously. The soldiers also began to think more about their families. If in the peace time people lavished time on quarrels, the war erases it all. People understand how much important thefamily is and how insignificant domestic conflictsare.
The fighters also get used to everything. And life and death are perceived differently here. I talked with a soldier, and he said: “It is terrible becauseanything terrifies you no longer.” People no longer are afraid and death is no longer something terrifying. I think this is right, because if they perceived every loss as pain as say it was onMaidan, then they would not survive. It is important their relatives stay beside them, for the soldiers who are left alone with their problems are adapting the worst.
In war, human traits,both positive and negative, get exacerbated. Therefore, the presence of a priest is important to restrain the negative. Often they turn to a priest even as to a judge who has to weigh and assess everything.
One of the priests said that staying there is God's blessing, for this is an opportunity to help people in their faith. The priest goes to the ATO zone to show that despite the dirt, danger and hatred of war, God is with soldiers and he has not forgotten them. I approached by soldiers and theysaid that on the battlefield it was not the armor that saved them but God, God's help.
We already have in our minds a certain image of a Ukrainian soldier - a bold and even legendary one. But I can sayfrom personal experience that it is very close to reality, and our soldiers really are like that. I would like very much that our soldiers returned home even nobler after a win in the war to change the country for the better.
Thanks to the experience of the ATO, I have more commonpoints with the wounded here in Lviv. When people return home, they are looking for someone who saw this, so it is easier for us to communicate. But this is not the experience that to be boasted of, and I rarely mention it. Some people deliberately manipulated by the fact they were in the ATO zone, constantly talking about it, although the soldiers are talking about seldom and reluctantly.
Despite the loss, injury or death of comrades, many fighters look at life cheerfully and overcome depression. The trouble is that it makes no difference for many residents of the ATO zone, who wins, and the efforts of Ukrainian military are of no importance for them. It is very demoralizing for the soldiers, because they do not feel support of those for whom they risk and die. Although when you see a blue and yellow flagthere, you think it a sign of salvation, because you know it is ours.
I think now we have finally started to win Donbas, and not from the People’s Republic of Donetsk, but from the regime that was there. In addition, people in Donbas were just annihilated, and they could not go against theirauthorities. This led to the situation that we have now. So I cannot judge the easterners. I have never lived there and do not know what person I would become after years of oppression and persecution.
Recorded by Anna Romandash