A vibrant church in war-ravaged Ukraine rises as a symbol of the country’s faith and culture

LYPIVKA, Ukraine (AP) — This orthodox easter An extraordinary new church is bringing spiritual comfort to people this season tired of war Residents of Lipivka village in Ukraine. Two years ago, it also served as a physical refuge from the horrors outside.

In March 2022, about 100 residents took shelter in the underground chapel of the Church of the Intercession of Mary as Russian troops occupied the village as they approached the Ukrainian capital Kiev, 40 miles (60 kilometers) to the east. .

“The battle was right here,” said Reverend Henady Kharkovsky. He points to the church cemetery, where there is a monument to six Ukrainian soldiers who died in the battle of Lipivka.

“They were wounded, but then the Russians came and shot them one by one, finishing them off,” he said.

During the two-week Russian occupation, the village was destroyed, and the modern church itself, which replaced the old building, was damaged during construction. It is one of 129 war-damaged religious sites in Ukraine recorded by UNESCO, the United Nations’ cultural agency.

“It’s hard concrete,” the priest said. “But it was easily penetrated.”Russian shells punctured the church and left a trail of debris on the interior walls. At the bottom of the basement stairs, black scorch marks remain, marking the spot where a grenade was thrown.

But within weeks, workers began repairing the damage, topped by a red dome towering over a village where the Russians left scarred and damaged buildings, flowering fruit trees and fields littered with mines. Work began on completing the sturdy building.

For many involved, including a tenacious priest, a wealthy philanthropist, a famous artist, and a team of artisans, the church’s reconstruction is part of Ukraine’s struggle for culture, identity, and very existence. A perfect blend of ancient and modern, this building reflects a country determined to express its soul even in times of war.

The building’s modest exterior hides the vibrant colors inside. The bright red, blue, orange, and gold panels that decorate the walls and ceiling are the work of artist Anatoly Krivorup, whose bold, modernist images of saints and angels make this church unique in Ukraine. .

Krivorup, 77, whose abstract paintings sell for tens of thousands of dollars at auction, said he wanted to avoid the stark-looking icons he saw in many Orthodox churches.

“It seems to me that going to church to see God should be a celebration,” he says.

There has been a church on this site for over 300 years. Early buildings were destroyed by artillery bombardment during World War II. The small wooden church that replaced it was used for more everyday purposes during the Soviet era, when religion was persecuted.

Kharkovsky reopened the parish in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union and, with funding from Ukrainian film producer and distributor Bohdan Baturkh, set about rebuilding the church both spiritually and physically. .

Work stopped when Russian forces launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Moscow’s forces reached the periphery of Kiev before being driven back. Lipivka was released by early April.

Since then, fighting has been concentrated in Ukraine’s east and south, but rockets, missiles and drone strikes remain a constant threat across the country.

By May 2022, workers resumed work on the church. Progress was slow. When war broke out, millions of Ukrainians, including builders and artisans, fled the country. Hundreds of thousands of others have joined the military.

Inside the church, a wooden scaffolding tower climbs up to the dome, and a red and gold statue of Christ raises his hands in blessing.

For now, services are held in a small basement, where a priest in white and gold robes worships before a few dozen parishioners as the scent of incense wafts through the candlelit room. went.

He expects large crowds to gather on Easter, which falls on Sunday. The Eastern Orthodox Church typically celebrates Easter later than the Catholic and Protestant Churches, due to a different method of calculating the date of the holy day commemorating the Resurrection of Christ.

Although the majority of Ukrainians identify as Orthodox Christians, the church is divided. Many belong to the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, of which Lipivka Church is also a member. The rival Ukrainian Orthodox Church remained loyal to the Moscow Patriarch until splitting from Russia after the 2022 invasion. viewed with suspicion By many Ukrainians.

Harikovsky says that although the village’s population has declined dramatically since the war began, the size of the congregation has remained stable. In difficult times, he says, people turn to religion.

“As people say, ‘Air raid siren, go see God,'” the priest said with a wry smile.

Liudmila Havrylyuk has a holiday home in Lipivka and found herself drawn back to the village and its church even before the fighting stopped. When Russia invaded, she drove to Poland with her daughters, then 16 and 18. But within weeks, she returned to her beloved village, which was still besieged by Russian troops.

Families hunkered down in their homes, cooking with firewood and fetching water from wells, sometimes under Russian fire. Havrylyuk said that when he saw the Russian helicopter, he held hands and prayed.

“It’s not a strict order of prayer like in the book,” she says. “It was from my heart, from my soul, what do we do? How do we save ourselves and especially her daughters?”

She regularly attends Lipivka’s church, which she says is a “place of spiritual refuge within myself.”

Ukraine is celebrating its third Easter during the war, and the church is nearing completion. Only a few interior panels of Kryvolap have been installed. He said the shell holes would be left unrepaired as a reminder to future generations.

“[It’s]to let them know what kind of ‘brothers’ we have and that they are just fascists,” he said of the Russians.

“We are Orthodox like them, but destroying the church is an inhumane act.”

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Vasilisa Stepanenko and Yehor Konovalov contributed to this article.

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Follow AP’s war coverage. https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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