Three churches in Ukraine contemplate faith, hope and charity

A man lights a candle in a church.
A man lights a candle in a church in Bucha, Ukraine.
(Rodrigo Abd / Associated Press)

It’s almost Easter in Ukraine, where a trio of churches on the far edges of the capital one recent Sunday considered faith, hope and charity.

A priest delivers a Sunday service.
A priest and congregants in an Orthodox church in Bucha, Ukraine, on the outskirts of Kyiv.
(Rodrigo Abd / Associated Press)

In Bucha, shocked into silence by atrocities that left bodies in the streets, about two dozen of the faithful gathered for a service while the exhumation of bodies continued from a mass grave in the church’s yard.

In Makariv, a handful of members visited a badly damaged riverside church, at times moved to tears. Small golden crosses for rosaries lay scattered on the floor with the shattered glass.

A woman reacts as she enters a war-damaged church.
A woman reacts inside a war-damaged church in Makariv, Ukraine.
(Petros Giannakouris / Associated Press)

And in Borodyanka, where Russian attacks ripped a blackened hole in a high-rise apartment building, volunteers and donations filled an almost untouched church a short walk away, while residents lined up at the door for food and other assistance. Many were elderly people who stayed behind while others fled.

On the day when Pope Francis called for an Easter truce in Ukraine to make way for a negotiated peace, church visitors invoked God in recalling their survival.

“Each person who was leaving, from any place — Makariv, Bucha, Hostomel — or from Andriivka, the neighboring village which was destroyed to the ground; each one, even those who did not know the Lord’s Prayer, he was speaking to God with his own words,” said Alona Parkhomenko in Makariv, where the church exterior was speckled with bullet holes and the priest warned of falling glass.

The Russian retreat from the region surrounding Kyiv has enabled some of the millions of Ukrainians who fled over the border or to other parts of the country to return home. Some are finding their places of worship damaged or destroyed. Ukrainian authorities in late March said at least 59 spiritual sites including churches, mosques and synagogues had been hit.

Women pray in a church.
Women pray in a church in Bucha.
(Rodrigo Abd / Associated Press)

In Makariv, the priest, Bogdan Lisechenko, said the church beside the river is in critical condition with spring rains looming. “Now we are taking out the icons, saving them because the water is coming,” he said. “For now, we will close the windows to prevent looting.”

For Easter, which this year the Orthodox world observes on April 24, the priest said the blessing would be given in a church in another village that so far has escaped damage in the war.