WOONSOCKET, R.I. (CNS) — Father Mykhaylo Dosyak has been running on little sleep since the first bombs in the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine began falling on his native country early Feb. 24.
As the conflict gets more dire by the day, Father Michael, as he is called by his parishioners at St. Michael the Archangel Parish, plans to keep in close touch with his family in his native country as long as phone service holds out.
His 82-year-old mother, his sister and nieces, with young children of their own, all have continued to live in the small village in the Carpathian Mountains of Western Ukraine, 60 miles from the Polish border, where he spent the first 30 years of his life before coming to serve as a priest in the U.S.
“They are scared,” he said, in between several FaceTime and regular phone calls he received from them Feb. 27 during an interview with Rhode Island Catholic, the newspaper of the Latin-rite Diocese of Providence.
“They can hear the planes and see the missiles,” he said, from what is believed to be Russian airstrikes on installations and infrastructure in that region.
One of his nieces told him that she had just put in a reservation for her and her two daughters to cross the Polish border. The earliest opportunity for her to do so would be in three days, she said.
She then planned to make her way to Spain to stay with some people they know, until they can figure out what comes next for them and their beloved Ukraine.
Her husband, she said, was required to remain behind to fight the invading forces. He had just come from the local police station where he was issued a weapon to use if necessary to defend their territory. Scared for the safety of their daughters, she said, she felt she must flee now.
Father Michael, who most recently visited his family in Ukraine only five months ago, is scared too.
At 50, he is old enough to remember growing up in a Ukraine that was once part of the former Soviet Union.
“It was not easy to live there during that time because the Communists were very powerful” under former general Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Leonid Brezhnev, he said.
Saying anything against the government could get one imprisoned then, he recalled.
“So I was very careful about what I said in school and in the street,” he said.
“Whatever we talked about with my mom and dad and my sister inside the house, we never talked about outside, because you can go to the prison, he said. “They could take you wherever they wanted, they could take your parents wherever they wanted: Siberia, prison or (they could) even be killed. Because they were in power, they did whatever they wanted.”
In addition to personal freedoms, Father Michael also is afraid of what would happen to the freedom of religion in Ukraine should Russia topple President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the democratically elected government.
“If the Russians take over Ukraine, the churches will have to go underground again,” he said.
On Feb. 27, despite getting only three hours of sleep, Father Michael still woke up as usual at 5 a.m. to prepare for his Sunday services.
He headed first to Fall River, Massachusetts, to celebrate the 8:30 a.m. bilingual Mass at St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church before returning to St. Michael the Archangel Ukrainian Catholic Church in Woonsocket to prepare for the 11 a.m. Mass, also offered in English and Ukrainian.
On this day, known as the Sunday of Forgiveness, as Lent for Ukrainian Catholics began on Monday, Feb. 28, a special guest celebrated Mass at St. Michael the Archangel with him in solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
Auxiliary Bishop Robert C. Evans of Providence was the principal celebrant, with Father Michael concelebrating.
“I want to thank Father Michael for so graciously welcoming me today,” Bishop Evans told the congregation.
“Unfortunately, the occasion of my praying with you is indeed a sad one for the people of Ukraine,” he said. “Once again this noble nation, and its brave sons and daughters, are victimized by a powerful neighbor without provocation or justification.”
In his homily, Bishop Evans recalled St. John Paul II’s pilgrimage to Ukraine in 2001 in which he declared that the witness of its martyrs in fidelity to the Gospel should serve as an example and stimulus for Christians in the third millennium.
“For more than a thousand years, since the baptism of Rus from Kyiv, Christianity spread through Eastern Europe, beyond the Urals, into Asia,” Bishop Evans said.
“Despite the darkness that too often enveloped Ukraine during the 20th century, and now threatens a free people’s right to self-determination once again, the light of faith was never extinguished and the dream of freedom never dimmed,” he said.
He concluded his homily by reciting a prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, defender in battle and protection against “the wickedness and snares of the devil.”
Following the Mass, Bishop Evans, Father Michael and his congregation headed to join the faithful at nearby St. Michael’s Ukrainian Orthodox Church for the end of their Sunday service.
There, joining Father Boris Kroner, the pastor, they prayed the Panakhyda, a prayer for the repose of the departed in the Eastern Orthodox Church, to memorialize those lost in the war in Ukraine.
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Snizek is executive editor of the Rhode Island Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Providence.