Despite invasion, nuns say they will stay in Ukraine to serve the people
PHILADELPHIA (CNS) – The nuns of Ukraine face the large-scale invasion of that nation by Russia with determined faith and a commitment to serve.
Two Sisters of the Order of St. Basil the Great spoke to CatholicPhilly.com directly from Ukraine on February 23-24 by phone and via the Viber messaging app.
“We understand that this is our new mission, to welcome refugees,” said Basilian Sister Lucia Murashko, whose convent, SS Monastery. Peter and Paul in Zaporizhzhia, is located about 200 km from Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.
Earlier on Feb. 24, when Russian airstrikes began hitting Ukrainian towns, Sister Murashko and her three fellow religious took in two families, and more are expected as residents flee the attacks.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has estimated that more than 100,000 people have already left their homes in Ukraine since Russian forces openly entered the country on February 24. The Ukrainian army reports having lost at least 40 soldiers so far, with an unknown number of civilian casualties.
Yet amid the fast-paced and fluid situation, Sister Murashko said that thanks to “a special grace from God” she “feels very calm.”
“We feel peace here,” she said. “We don’t want to move from here; we want to help people and stay with them as long and as much as possible.
Locals are grateful for the support, she said, especially a neighbor who is eight months pregnant and advised not to travel by her doctor.
Also, Sister Murashko said, “in the west (of Ukraine) people are no safer than they are here.”
In particular, eastern Ukraine has become too accustomed to conflict in what Archbishop Borys Gudziak and his fellow Ukrainian Catholic bishops in the United States recently called “an eight-year war waged by the Kremlin,” which began with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. .
In the same year, Russian-backed separatists proclaimed “people’s republics” in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, collectively known as Donbass.
The move came just 23 years after Ukraine gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, of which it was a part.
Memories of oppression under Soviet Communism were close for Basilian Sister Anna Andrusiv, whose monastery is in Lviv, western Ukraine.
Although born in 1988, she “felt in her heart” a unity with long-dead sisters who hid in the same convent basement during the German occupation of Ukraine in World War II.
Her own grandmother had vivid memories of hardship, deprivation and a constant fear of “speaking your mind”, which could result in her being sent “to Siberia”, she said.
Sister Andrusiv said she and about 20 religious colleagues – some of whom are in their 90s – have their emergency bags packed “in case we get bombed”, with at least three days supply of “food, water, warm clothes and medicines”. ” as well as important documents.
At the same time, she and her companions said they were not afraid.
“We want you to know that we are just waiting. If this is going to happen it will be difficult, but we can handle it,” she said. “We just want you to know that this is not from us, this war. It’s like someone comes to our house and wants to take it, and we’ll all fight. We all will.
A recent pilgrimage of religious men and women, which ended in eastern Ukraine just hours before the invasion, provided renewed spiritual energy for the days to come, Sister Murashko said.
“We were walking down the main street (of the city) and people were crossing themselves … and bowing to the crucifix,” she said. “They came to us and gave us the strength to serve and…to continue our mission here, so we can’t want to go anywhere else.”
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Christian is senior content producer for CatholicPhilly.com, the news site for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.