Ukrainian priest in Czechia says the war changed his people
The church of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, which serves the Greek Catholic parish and the Ukrainian community in the town of Pardubice, rarely makes news headlines. The invasion of Ukraine put it in the spotlight as hundreds of people – believers and atheists- descended on it with offers of material aid for the people of Ukraine. Ukrainian priest Marian Kurylo spoke to Czech Radio about the war that changed his people.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, sent shockwaves around the world, galvanizing governments, NGOs and common people into action. Those hardest hit by the aggression were Ukrainian communities scattered the world over as they watched the devastation of their homeland live on television and on social networks. One of these small communities is located in the town of Pardubice and its heart is in the church of Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, which serves the Greek Catholic parish and the Ukrainian community in the town. Its Ukrainian priest Maryan Kurylo, who has lived in the Czech Republic for 12 years now, says that he was overwhelmed by the wave of public solidarity that followed.
“On the very first day dozens of people came to the church to donate things and ask how they could help. Originally, I thought we would send the first delivery in a few days’ time but when I saw what people accumulated in just a few hours it brought tears to my eyes. There was a truck-load, two truckloads, of goods and more kept coming. I am truly grateful and I want to thank everyone from the parish and the region for the way they opened their hearts and helped.”
The Ukrainian priest has now switched from sending material aid to helping Ukrainian refugees who joined their friends and family in the Pardubice region. Like all Ukrainians abroad he avidly follows the country’s brave resistance to the Russian assault and does not hide his pride in how his people reacted to the crisis.
“If you had asked me about the Ukrainian people just a few weeks ago I would have told you that they are much like the Czechs – they criticize the government, the president, the high prices in the shops. But now things are different. Today we are united and fighting for Ukraine. We are proud of our president, we don’t grumble and we are grateful for any aid that we get. I think it would be the same with any other nation placed in such circumstances.”
The brutal violence unleashed against innocent civilians is fueling anger against the aggressors and priest Kurylo says it has presented him with a new challenge –to try to stifle the hatred in his heart for the enemy. Evil breeds more evil, so people should not allow hatred to grow in their hearts, that is something I try to tell them every day, he says.
He is also worried that as the refugee numbers grow, people’s solidarity might wane and his compatriots might be less welcome than in the first phase of the aid effort. In an interview for Czech Radio he asked for patience and understanding.
“Believe me, the people fleeing Ukraine do not long for Czech land, for Czech property, they do not want to take what is yours. I know many of them don't even want to unpack because they hope to return home soon to rebuild their houses and their country. They don’t even like the idea of enrolling their children to school here because they cannot imagine that the war may go on for a longer time – that is their biggest fear.”