I’d tell Bartholomew: You’ll look God in the eye soon, what will you say?
The story of Ulyana Taborovets from Berestye is both typical and unique. A temple and a house taken away, curses of fellow villagers, and a strong, friendly community.
At the Congress of the persecuted communities "Faithful", which took place at the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra on February 22, there were no gloomy faces. Believers shared their problems but did not complain. Despite the fact that the participants were brought together by a common misfortune, the atmosphere was upbeat – everyone was very happy to see each other, communicate, learn something, share their experience, and just feel that they are not alone, that each community is a part of a large church family.
Mother Ulyana Taborovets from the village of Berestye, Rivne region, stood out against the general background, for her energy, sincerity, cordiality and some kind of "genuineness". She was not at all like the mournful martyr, which the Orthodox often imagine the wife of a priest attacked by schismatics. She defended her temple, being in the last months of pregnancy, and at the time of the seizure, she gave birth to her sixth child. And although we initially planned to take only a short comment from Ulyana, the conversation turned out to be a full-featured interview.
How the church was taken away
– Ulyana, we have talked a lot with the communities that lost the temple – all of them have almost the same story. How was it in your village?
– It all happened in our village according to the standard scenario. They incited the people, spread false information about our Church, although by that time we had served for 15 years. To be honest, it was our parishioners who stayed with us - those 150-200 people who have always been going to services. And those who took (the temple - Ed.) have never been to church before. We defended the temple for a month.
On March 3, 2019, the whole community voted in the church that we remained in the bosom of the Mother Church (UOC – Ed.). And at that very time, they gathered for a village meeting at the school. But not only the Orthodox but also Pentecostals and Baptists took part in it. And there were visitors from other villages. For example, you are from my village, currently living in Kyiv, but you came to the village and voted as a resident of the village. That is, the parishioners of the church were not there, because all the parishioners were in the church.
After that, we defended the temple for another month, there were 4 attempted seizures. The first time it was when they entered the acolyte’s through the side entrance doors. The man decided to take an inventory on the throne. He leaned on the Lord’s table and described what was in the altar and the temple. After that, we stood in prayer near the temple. We were praying continuously. The priests came, served akathists, while we were praying. At the time I was 40 weeks pregnant, it was very difficult to bear. And once, when I was already in the maternity hospital, they arranged a "corridor of shame" for us. They wanted our people and the father to pass through them, and they shouted "shame" to us. Well, judge – shame on who? On the man who came to pray for your health? It was very hard then. We sing the Jesus Prayer and "I Believe", and they: "Ukraine has not died yet ..." There were both shouts and spits, the priest has been repeatedly beaten during this month.
We sing the Jesus Prayer and "I Believe", and they: "Ukraine has not died yet ..."
The church was seized on April 2 (2019 – Ed.). The police were standing, they did not allow our people to the temple. They came, cut off the doors with a grinder, beat old people, dragged girls by their hair. It's very hard to remember now. The people were like madmen, you know? You look a person in the eye, but there seemed to be no eyes. I think those who were there now regret it. In our district, 4 churches were taken away and the ringleaders are all from our village. Our people couldn't even walk calmly down the street – they were insulted. Even now, when our parishioners are going to the house to pray, they are stopped and insulted with obscene words. Where are you going? To the Moscow priest? And curse out, etc. They took the temple, the church house and even the chapel in the church cemetery. Now, when we bury our people, we need to go to their "priest" (to open the gate) to get to the old cemetery. We hold a burial service in the yard or near the grave.
The people were like madmen, you know? You look a person in the eye, but there seemed to be no eyes.
– Where are you praying now?
– We are praying in our house. There is a house in our yard that we have wanted to dismantle for a long time. By the will of God, it so happened that by that time we had not deconstructed it. And there we made a prayer house, a chapel in the yard. We have an average of 140 people at the service. We serve night Liturgies every week. They are attended by up to 50 people.
On hostility in the village
Two years have passed, and only now families are starting to communicate, only now! Until recently, even families haven’t communicated. But even now it is impossible to say that everything has passed. We still have a war in the village because there is a division into "friends" and "foes." This is the first thing. And secondly, as soon as we are going to buy land for the construction of a temple, we are not allowed to do this. Those who sell this land to us are intimidated. Like just try to sell, you are a traitor, etc. We have already bought, but they began to sue us.
We still have a war in the village.
They retroactively registered a person on this territory and they are suing us 6 acres of land. For 2 years now, we have been suing continuously. Earlier because of the temple, now – because of the land. We ask: at least give us back our registration (of the communities – Ed.). We have nothing – neither registration nor the church. Therefore, to say that we have gone through it ... No, it isn’t over yet. We are still experiencing it, every time. Many priests have left our village. And when you watch someone serve in the cathedral, and you humble yourself and serve in the hut, it is difficult to express this to you. Only the one who experienced it may understand that. So we arrived here, and again we recall everything: the cries "shame", "out with the Moscow priest ...".
Authorities, do not divide people!
– What would you ask the authorities for?
– I want to ask the authorities – do not divide people. We are all citizens of Ukraine. And I am also a citizen of Ukraine. My children are citizens of Ukraine. We speak, we communicate at home in Ukrainian. We sing Ukrainian songs every other day. And why am I then a "Moscow traitor"? Just because I have not betrayed the faith? According to the Constitution of Ukraine, we all have the right to faith. By conscience. Whoever wants to – keep their faith. Here even Satanists can pray, Muslims can pray, right? And Orthodox Christians of the Moscow Patriarchate, as they call us, have no right to even normally bury a person in their village! Why?!
I am a citizen of Ukraine. My children are citizens of Ukraine. We speak, we communicate at home in Ukrainian. We sing Ukrainian songs every other day. And why am I then a "Moscow traitor"?
We have had a case in the village recently. We buried a senior woman, who was 100 years old. And when their "priest" (of the OCU – Ed.) was passing by, he asked - and whose funeral was that? And they answered him – that of Moscow died. Has she ever been to Moscow in her 100 years? What kind of Moscow is she?! She is Ukrainian. She devoted her whole life to Ukraine. I want to ask the authorities – do not divide people, give us the opportunity to pray. Look – how many churches were taken – after all, no one took them back by force, right? Therefore, there is only one request to the authorities – let us register as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, give us the opportunity to build up. Because, for example, our head of the village council said you will crawl to my knees to beg for land, but I won't give it to you. We didn't save the temple, true. But we saved people. All people are with us – everyone who was with us remains.
On Patriarch Bartholomew
– What would you say to Patriarch Bartholomew?
– That he will soon go to God and look God in the eye. What will he say? Because I no longer consider him a patriarch as he broke the canons. He became a schismatic himself – since he recognized schismatics. What has he done? People (invaders from the OCU - Ed.) justified themselves, justified their actions: they divided the village, the villages. We have 4 villages in the region, 4 such churches. What to tell him (Bartholomew – Ed.)? One has no right to judge, one can only condemn actions. But this is terrible. It's terrible – how much wrong he did, how many tears and blood were shed in other temples, as far as I know.