A military chaplain, Fr. Maxim from the Orthodox parish of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dariyvka, n. Kherson (Kiyv Patriarchate), shares a heartrending story of the fighting and reality of the Russian occupation of Ukraine.
Fr. Maxim offered an insight into his current extremely difficult ministry in an interview with MarketWatch. When on February 24 it became clear that Ukraine had been attacked, the priest and his friends from the 124th territorial armybattalion gathered at a collection point, where they were assigned automatic weapons. The chaplain recalls that this was a sunny morning and spring was in the air. All were aware, however, that a watershed moment in the history of contemporary Europe had begun.
The Ukrainian soldiers had been aware of the risk of Russian invasion for many months. As soon as they had received arms, their unit was attacked by a squadron of Russian helicopters. A few of Fr. Maxim’s friends sustained injuries. “Those first three days flew by like one. There was no time for sleep, for eating or even for praying,” he told MarketWatch.
“Even though I’m a priest, I have the full moral right to take up arms to defend my people and my family,” argues the chaplain. On the very first day of the fighting his unit was under Grad rocket barrages. Fr. Maxim was also a witness to Russians opening fire on the civilians trying to flee the city.
On the fifth day, however, the valiant chaplain’s unit were finally overwhelmed and forced to retreat to the nearby city of Nikolaev. This is where a new front line was formed. According to Fr. Maxim, the city of Kherson was looted by the Russian troops, who stole civilian cars and ransacked mobile phone stores.
Fr. Maxim himself and some soldiers have remained in the city, where he is in hiding from the Russians. “We know they hunt us down and we know that they know who we are. For the time being, all we can do is wait and keep a low profile,” concludes the priest.
Kherson is a port city of over 300,000 residents. It is situated in the mouth the Dnieper River to the Black Sea. It was clear from the beginning of the war that due to its strategic location, Kherson would be one of the principal targets of the Russians advancing from the Crimea. After a week of heavy fighting, the city was seized by the aggressor on March 2. So far, it is the largest metropolis taken over by the Russians.
Despite repressions and arrests (according to the Ukrainians, the Russians have already imprisoned more than 400 people in town), the residents of Kherson continue to take to the streets to demonstrate against the occupiers. Skirmishes with groups of Ukrainian soldiers take place regularly on the outskirts of the city. The volatile situation and the attitude of the occupiers prevent the evacuation of civilians from Kherson. The Russians are blocking food and medical supplies and have launched an extensive propaganda campaign, replacing the Ukrainian communications media and mobile phone networks with Russian ones.