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Ucraine: Through the Night of Death into the Light of Resurrection

Author: Svetlana Matsiuk, SSpS
Subject: War, suffering, hope
Language: English, Spanish
Publisher: VivatDeus.org
Year: 2023

One of the most famous icons of the Orthodox tradition, “Anastasis”, depicts the Risen Christ standing at the gates of Hades and pulling the old Adam and Eve out of the place of death, grasping them by the wrists. The Lord is taking them to the place of life, the Paradise. This image is full of hope and God’s saving power. It precisely shows the realities we have been experiencing in Ukraine since February 14, 2022, the beginning of the war with Russia.

Adam and Eve are in Hades, in darkness, they are cut off from life. I remember the first feelings of fear, anxiety and hopelessness when we first heard the air alarm. The war became real, even if it took us many months to accept this fact. Since then, death has become the everyday reality in which we live. A family from Mariupol, whom we SSpS sisters accompanied for a while, told us how they lived in the basement of their high-rise building for a few weeks, hiding from the bombings. One of their relatives was killed in the courtyard of the building when he went to get drinking water. This man’s wife could not bury him because the shooting did not stop for days and nights… Many stories of death and destruction, many people who lost their lives or gave their lives to save others.

My friend Sergij was a former soldier. He and his brother Andrij worked as drivers in Germany, they wanted to get married and live a happy life. When the war started, they both came back to protect Ukraine. After a few months Andrij was captured by the Russians at the front, we do not know if he is still alive. In autumn Sergij was seriously wounded, his chances of survival were slim, but he survived and is now completely blind.

“Anastasis” shows Christ holding the wrists of the first man and woman, where you can feel the pulse. He holds us where there is life and pulls us out of death. This war has shown us that life with dignity and freedom has a very high price, its cost is enormous. I remember our postulant once saying that in the current situation, our soldiers are the ones who show us what it means to love. They go to this war knowing they may not come back. They give life. Last summer, a couple from the perish came to us for medicine and hygiene items. The husband was a soldier, he came home for a few days and then was preparing to go back to the front with his group. During our conversation, his little daughter wanted to stay in his arms the whole time, she hugged and kissed him. It was so touching.  He wanted his daughter to be free and happy and not live as a slave, so he was willing to risk his life.

At the center of this icon is the Risen Christ. His whole figure shows that he has conquered death and evil. And therefore we are the children of the resurrection. The experience of the cross and suffering has become very real for each of us. But at the same time, this devastating war is also the time of great solidarity and brotherhood, the time of resurrection of all good will and values that we have. People opened their homes to the refugees, donated money, clothes and food to the refugees of Eastern Ukraine. Our SSpS mission, as well as those of many other religious communities, is focused on the victims of the war.

Sr. Viktoriia Kovalchuk, SSpS began her ministry in Borodyanka, a town near Kyiv that was heavily destroyed by Russian troops. People here live in containers and hope that one day their beautiful homes can be rebuilt or renovated. Sr. Viktoriia organizes art classes for the children there, she visits the elderly and poor, needy families. Together with other volunteers, she organizes feasts for these people and tries to help them overcome their traumatic experiences.

Since the spring of this year, sr. Viktoriia has also been visiting a military hospital in the capital. She organizes art sessions with the wounded patients and tries to support them and their families in every positive way. As she wrote to me recently after one of these visits, “These people are so positive and inspiring. I experience over and over again that it is not me who gives, but it is me who receives. People who have experienced military captivity, who are disabled after being wounded, have so much light and life in them.” This war has shown the face of evil, its terrible nature, but it has also shown how great love can also be and our willingness to sacrifice for freedom, liberty and human values.

A few days ago I received a message asking me to pray for a group of soldiers on our front lines. During the night, they were going to rescue their commander who was left wounded after the battle. They could not take him with them when they left the place, but they decided to risk it and find him during the night. This man wrote, “It is a big risk, but we know he is alive and waiting for us. We cannot leave him there.” I prayed for them and told Jesus, “You know they are going to hell to save life. Please, save them.” And then it occurred to me: with such people who are willing to overcome fear and face death, we can defeat death and war. This situation had a happy ending, everyone survived.

This very difficult war experience has purified our faith and strengthened our trust in Him. As two thousand years ago, He did not simply expel the foreign invaders, but purified their hearts and gave them the freedom to rejoice with those who rejoice and suffer with those who suffer. He has widened our hearts and made us able to love and be grateful for every day of freedom and every life sacrificed in the struggle for that freedom.


Svetlana Matsiuk, SSpS

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