The priest who was tortured in 2014, develops the Ukrainian Church in Donbas
He supported the Maidan protesters and was tortured by Russian-controlled militants. And now he is a chaplain of the National Guard, a volunteer, radio host and spiritual mentor for visitors to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) in Druzhkivka, in the Donetsk region.
For eight years, he has been serving in the Holy Ascension parish in Druzhkivka.
In a small house on Pushkinska street in Druzhkivka, Muslims used to gather and pray. Subsequently, the owner of the house died. Twenty-one years ago, it was purchased for the construction of the Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate. Now the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is located here. Fr Dionysiy conducts the service in Ukrainian.
“We also pray for the soldiers who protect the sovereignty and inviolability of the Ukrainian land. For their relatives and friends who miss them and wait for them to return healthy, happy and with victory,” the words of prayer are heard during the service.
“For me, Ukraine is me, my family, my land. I am very proud to be Ukrainian. Ukraine is my life. And I can't imagine my life without Ukraine,” says Dionysiy.
“I understand the pain of the people. With my heart and spirit, I was also with these people, " Dionysiy recalls the events on Independence Square (Maidan) in Kyiv. He was among the protesters for several days. He says that even the air was filled with something special.
Dionysiy is also grateful to the Maidan residents who volunteered to go to Donbas to counter Russian military aggression.
After all, the country at that time, the chaplain recalls, was in chaos, and the regular army was not ready. And the volunteers, according to Dionysiy, took the first blow both in Ilovaisk and in other points of the front.
He knows many of them, in particular, from the Donbas battalion: “This is a great sacrifice,” he says. Sacrifice is not for one's own interests. This sacrifice for each of us: for me personally and my family. And I am very grateful to those guys who, despite the difficult time, were able to start their activity, to form such battalions and go to protect our state.”
Father Dionysiy says that as a priest, he cannot take up arms to defend Ukraine. Therefore, chaplaincy became for him “a filial duty to be paid to the Motherland”.
“I have a stronger weapon – the word of God, which supports the fighters in different states,” the priest believes.
He is confident: “Ukraine is to win, it's one hundred percent! If there is evil, it must be punished. I don't know how this will happen. But I know that we will stand, and Ukraine will be united, integrated, and Crimea will also return to us.”
Many parishioners in Druzhkivka, according to Dionysiy, maintain a clear pro-Ukrainian position. Therefore, in 2014, when Russian-backed militants occupied Druzhkivka, three people in balaclavas armed with machine guns came to Fr. Dionysiy.
“They believed that in 2013 when there was a Maidan, it was me who paid people and asked them to go to support the Maidan. They asked a lot for local Ukrainian priests, for our head of the diocese, because they wanted to find him. I didn't know at that time where our head was, just as I couldn't give information about who sent me to pay people, because it didn't happen,” the priest recalls.
He was detained and taken to a building near the City Council. Hegumen Dionysiy says that the dungeon was built in 1847. Hegumen Dionysiy shows the cell where he was detained. The newspaper "Novorossiya" is still on the floor. At various times, there were from 7 to 12 people here, the priest recalls.
For two days Fr. Dionysiy was kept in this cell, and every two hours he was taken for interrogation.
The corridor was seldom dry because of freshly spilled blood. And there was always a fresh pool of blood in the interrogation room, the priest recalls:
“They were beaten during interrogations. They were beaten on the kidneys, on the liver, and in the abdomen... The corridor was seldom dry because of freshly spilled blood. And there was always a fresh pool of blood in the interrogation room. Many of them just closed their eyes when they brought them into that room. Then they were fired directly overhead. And then they were taken off the blindfold and shown it. It was all scary. After such tortures, a friend of mine had been seriously stressed out. After a while, that guy fell ill and died... As a priest, I have to forgive, as the Lord God forgave. I have forgiven, but it is difficult to forget.”
On the third day, Fr Dionysiy was forced to write a statement that he would leave Druzhkivka and never return and was released.
Fr. Dionysiy says that it has always been difficult to serve in the Donbas. Even in Druzhkivka, according to him, there are five churches of the Moscow Patriarchate and only one of the OCU. We must continuously overcome some obstacles, including those made both by the officials and the criminals.
“It happened that we were robbed three times a year with our doors being broken down. Two years ago, it was just a broken door, a mess, that's all. Unfortunately, neither law enforcement agencies nor local authorities responded in any way and did not help find who it was. At the moment, we have been serving quietly for two years,” Fr. Dionysiy sighs with relief.
And after receiving the Tomos of Independence, the believers who did not like the policy of the priests of the Moscow Patriarchate began to go to the Church, Fr. Dionysiy says.
The third part of the future Church has already been built next to the house where the services are held.
“It would be much easier if there was no war in our country if there were no wounded children who need to be helped. It would be possible to find funds for Ukraine and finish this temple. And now there are more pressing and important things where people invest money. So while we have construction frozen. I think that a beautiful Orthodox Ukrainian temple will be erected here in the future,” Fr. Dionysius is confident.