Life after seizure. Polesskoye residents: Tomos brought civil war to us

Parishioners of St. Michael community of the UOC in Polesskoye village

“Life After Seizure” is a series of stories about the life of UOC communities, whose churches were seized by the OCU raiders. Our today's story is about Polesskoye.

The UOJ begins a series of stories about the fate of the Orthodox, whose churches were seized by the OCU raiders under the guise of "voluntary transitions". We called this series "Life after Seizure". Life, because the community still lives a liturgical life: believers come to worship, confess, receive Holy Communion, and participate in other Sacraments of the Church. Except that these services are now taking place in completely different settings – in huts, barns, garages, or just under a fabric canopy.

But the difficult conditions for worship are far from the main problem of believers, whose temples have been taken away by those who call themselves members of the "patriotic Church" (Orthodox Church of Ukraine). The parishioners of the UOC who live in such hot-spot villages, in fact, exist in the conditions of early Christian communities – meekly enduring hostility, anger, and even hatred of others.

We will provide excerpts from conversations with these people. But before that, it's important to say a very important thing. All these people unanimously say that their afflictions began after the Tomos for the OCU had been brought to Ukraine. The document, issued by a person bearing the title "His Holiness". This is probably the worst thing in the whole story. The initiator of the persecution of Christians in the 21st century is neither the emperor, nor the pagan ruler, but ... the Ecumenical Patriarch.

The first place our film crew visited was the village of Polesskoye, Bereznovo District, Rovno Region.

Parishioners of St. Michael community, who were expelled from their temple by the adherents of the OCU on April 17, 2019, are now having worship on the street under a canopy mounted near the priest’s house. The Orthodox faithful say that once a friendly village completely changed after the appearance of the Tomos. Now there is a fierce feud called by the believers a real civil war. Their fellow villagers, who practically do not go to church, staged an actual assault sweeping off the road even a disabled man in a wheelchair without shame.

The police chief said to me, “Today we should be in the temple so that there is no brawl.

Archpriest Stepan Korochuk, rector of St. Michael’s temple of the UOC in the village of Polesskoye

Archpriest Stepan Korochuk, rector of St. Michael community of the UOC in the village of Polesskoye, told the UOJ that in the 24 years of his ministry there has never been such a feud between residents as now. There have never been any conflicts between believers and those who previously did not go to the temple, but now everything has changed. The authorities made the parts of the village (who had not visited the temple before) believe that they are patriots, and therefore they should go to the "patriotic Church". “Unpatriots” from the UOC are not worthy to serve in the temple.

Asked by the UOJ correspondent why the iconostasis and the throne were installed under an ordinary canopy, literally on the street, the priest replied that this is how services are held now: “This is the church community’s house, I have been living in it for all the years of service in this church. Such is the situation that our temple is seized. This happened on April 17, 2019.”

Correspondent: Do you have any documents to confirm that the church belongs to the community?

Priest: We have the documents for the church building; we have the right of ownership, a technical passport for both the house and the church. There is a code, a seal. They (OCU – Ed.) registered their community at our address arbitrarily. Who helped them in this case is unknown. But this occurred without the consent of our community.

Our community held a meeting of the parish, kept minutes, collected signatures that we want to be in the bosom of the Orthodox Church under the leadership of His Beatitude Onuphry. At the moment there are not all of our parishioners – in fact, there are more of them, they just could not get together. On the seizure day, as I was going to the district in the morning, the head of the village council, who is a member of the OCU, invited me to his place and put me in the picture that there might be a skirmish and seizure of the temple. The police chief, whose name is Andrey Kushik, invited me and said, “Today we should be in the temple so that there is no brawl. He told me the police would be nearby and would enter the temple. Well, he was there. I started to feel unwell then, the pressure rose, I was taken to the hospital.

There was a real horror during the storm of the temple

Alexander, parishioner of St. Michael temple of the UOC in Polesskoye village, Category I disability  

I don’t know how Poroshenko got his hands on the Tomos and got the people to go to the so called OCU. The assault was dreadful. It occurred on April 17th, but no one could have thought there would be such a raider seizure. 

Correspondent: Tell me, were there outsiders there?

Alexander: There were local residents from the village, but the ones who had almost never gone to church. We kept on holding them back, but we failed in the end. They broke the gates, ran to the church, stood near it for about an hour, then began to break the locks. We had set the alarm in the temple. When they began to break the locks, the alarm went off and howled all over the district. It was just awful. We pled them to seal the temple, go to court, and act by the court’s decision. They did not want to. They broke into the temple and that’s all.

Tomos has brought civil war to our village

Tatyana Androshchuk, parishioner of St. Michael’s temple of the UOC in Polesskoye village

It all started on April 17th. The village was divided into two parts.

Parishioners of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church stood on one side, while supporters of the OCU stood on the other side. Since our priest was in hospital, the dean and priests from neighboring villages came to support us.

When the members of the OCU saw our priests getting out of the car, they waded into them as if they were some kind of prey. We rushed to defend out priests and the brawl started off. We asked them not to fight with us. One mother asked her son from the OCU to go away and leave the priest alone, for this is a big sin to attack a clergyman. People were falling on the ground but no one paid attention to this fact. This is also recorded on the video. The priests stood aside and did not take part in anything.

Everyone rushed to the church gate. Nearby was a police chief. I personally asked him, “Why did you come here?” He answered me, “To protect the rule of law”. I said, “Here is my brother Alex, he is a disabled man and I personally ask you to protect him so that his wheeling chair would not be broken or damaged. He answered me ok and walked away.

After a while, when they began to press forward, my mother stood beside my disabled brother and heard one man saying to the head of the village council: if he is overturned, it will be on your conscience. Only after that he began to warn everybody to be careful because Alex was there. But no one paid attention to my brother. They (representatives of the OCU – Ed.) simply shouted to us, “Why did you place him there? You are hiding behind a disabled person!”

They shouted directly into my mother’s eyes what kind of mother she was if she had deliberately put the wheeling chair in their way. And I asked my brother to drive off, because they could break his wheeling chair. But he replied he would not leave and would stand to the utmost.

Correspondent: Could you tell me who provoked all this? For you somehow used to get along in the village?

Tatyana: Yes, until this time the village used to live its own life; people went about their business. Our blessed church had existed for millennia, everyone used to go to it. People now think that the previous government is to blame: the president of Ukraine wanted to gain victory – I don’t know really over whom or what – and proclaimed the unification. But it turned out the other way around – the village is animosity-ridden and I can’t even tell you how much!

Now a real civil war is going on in the village. The OCU proponents insult us and refuse to talk to us, since they had only one goal – to get into the temple by all means.

We proposed to the OCU activists to seal the temple. If the court decides in their favor, it will be theirs – but why break or damage it? Nobody paid attention to our words, nobody. There were a former principal, a former teacher, and the head of the village council on the ground – officials and state employees. There were five police cars, but the police were completely inactive, they did not protect us at all. The police acted on the side of the OCU and only watched us being pushed and insulted. Upon the arrival of the rector of the OCU, Miroslav Sinitsa, they made a corridor from the police and made sure he could smoothly enter the temple.


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