By Marta Petrosillo, ACN Italy
Adapted by Amanda Bridget Griffin, ACN Canada
“I believe that my kidnappers had been watching me for some time already, because they had a lot of information both about me and about my parishioners,” says Father Sergey, one of the three priests kidnapped in Ukraine between July and August this year. He is talking to ACN about his 12 days of imprisonment. This Ukrainian Greek-Catholic priest, who belongs to the archiepiscopal exarchate of Donetsk, was abducted at the end of July while driving his car.
“Three men got out of a car next to me, belonging to the army of New Russia. I realised immediately that it was me they wanted. They forced me into their car and then knocked me out with a sponge soaked in chloroform.” When Father Sergey woke up, his abductors explained to him what he had done “wrong” – namely being one of the organizers of a day of prayer for peace and the unity of Ukraine. A prayer against New Russia. “If someone had prayed for the Soviet Union in Berlin in 1942, what was the Germans have done?”
Several times his abductors threatened to shoot the priest. “They told me to pray, because these would be my last moments,” he recalls; “then they fired into the air.” Father Sergey was not actually subjected to torture, but he was deprived of the insulin he needs to keep his diabetes under control. “As the days passed, my condition grew worse and I begged them to give me the medicine. After a week in prison, his abductors were joined by a man who spoke with a strong Muscovite accident – unlike the other kidnappers who were clearly from Donetsk – and who interrogated the priest for four days in succession. [“The man had a great deal of information about me and even knew the names of my parishioners…] On the 12th day of his imprisonment Father Sergey was blindfolded and forced to get into a car. He was convinced that he was about to be killed at any moment, but after a short journey his abductors left him, completely alone. He waited a couple of hours, and then began to drive to safety.
“I went through some frightening moments, but I always managed to find strength in prayer,” he recalls. “When my blood pressure went up, as a result of the lack of medication, I began to recite the Rosary. And, as though miraculously, my heart began to beat more slowly again.”
Don Victor, a Catholic priest of the diocese of Kharkiv-Zaporižžja, was abducted in similar circumstances. “Some men from the Army of New Russia stopped me at a checkpoint,” he tells ACN. “After checking my documents, they asked me to follow them for a brief interview, but I wasn’t freed again until eleven days later.” He too was subjected to numerous interrogations and more than one mock execution. [Initially, the separatists thought that Don Victor was a spy, because he was coming from central Ukraine.]
Inside the small room in which he was held prisoner, a room of less than 12 square meters, there were at different times more than 50 other hostages, to whom Don Victor was able to give spiritual support.
The third priest to be abducted, Don Pavel, is a Polish priest who has been working in Kazakhstan. He had gone to Ukraine to take part in the day of prayer for peace.