Zaporozhye, Ukraine, April 1, 2022
Last month, His Eminence Metropolitan Luke of Zaporozhye of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church went with a humanitarian convoy intended for Mariupol.
The aid never reached its final destination, but the Metropolitan had many eye-opening experiences along the way, seeing and hearing the most terrible things, but also observing the depths of human love for one another.
In the end, the convoy returned to Zaporozhye with about 400 Mariupol citizens who managed to escape to the city of Berdyansk, as well as 130 children from a Berdyansk orphanage.
He spoke about his experience in an interview posted by Archpriest Gennady Elin.
Met. Luke explained that he got involved with the convoy when the state asked the Church to mediate and escort the convoy. The hierarch invited any willing priests to go with him, and in the end, 12 priests responded positively.
While Met. Luke didn’t think it was a big deal to go at first, what he saw and heard, he says, was very serious and tragic: “It’s beyond the power of even the most brilliant directors with the most talented artists, nor can it be described in books by the most talented writers. Those emotions and feelings that we encountered, it isn’t possible to convey until you yourself experience this horror for yourself.”
The convoy made several attempts to reach Mariupol, at times being stopped for security concerns, at times being escorted by Russian troops, as Met. Luke recounts. Having reached Berdyansk, the Russian military then wouldn’t allow it to continue on to Zaporozhye. This happened three days in a row.
Then citizens who managed to flee Mariupol began to arrive in Berdyansk, where the convoy was staying while trying to enter Mariupol. “It was scary to see people beaten, crippled, bandaged, with bloody bandages due to shrapnel wounds (I myself am a doctor by first education),” Met. Luke says.
It’s easier to describe what’s left in Mariupol than what’s been destroyed, Met. Luke says, recounting what he heard from citizens, who also spoke about bombings and mass graves as they received humanitarian assistance in Berdyansk.
“I just stopped listening to such stories. I just couldn't listen to it! I couldn't stand it! I’m a priest, a doctor, I’ve seen and heard a lot in my life, but I’ve never seen or heard anything like this,” the Metropolitan exclaims.
Later, the Russian military escorted the convoy to Tokmak, where more humanitarian cargo was unloaded, and they picked up a seriously injured girl at the Russian military’s request, Met. Luke recalls. The convoy was eventually given the green light to travel to Mariupol, but it was never able to reach Mariupol, and some of it simply had to be taken back to Zaporozhye.
Just before the interview, Met. Luke learned from some of his priests that they had managed to evacuate a few people from the outskirts of Mariupol itself. He relates:
The priests saw firsthand what was happening there. Houses destroyed after the bombing, and tortured people living in their basements. Food, in fact, it can’t be called food, they cooked near their shelters on pieces of furniture and anything that burns. When I met with Fr. P., he told me that we can’t imagine what hell is, but he’s sure that in Mariupol it’s scarier than hell.
Asked to offer a word of hope, Met. Luke exhorts:
People, turn to God in your prayer! Know that He is not only a merciful Father, but also a righteous, honest Judge. We will answer not only for deeds, but also for every word. You can’t hide from Him and you won’t find any lawyers. Judge not that ye be not judged. Start the trial with yourself.
On this trip I met with humanity, with the active fulfillment of the commandment of love for one’s neighbor… I met with ordinary people who gave everything, seeing the suffering of other people. We don’t know this yet, and God forbid that we find out by our own experience.
We mustn’t lose the human image. Having forgotten God, having betrayed Him, we got our own. We were well-fed, satisfied, everyone had their own ambitions, their own pride. Now we are looking for the guilty, but the person who multiplies sin is guilty, first of all. Man has nurtured sins, malice and hatred in his heart, thereby filling the cup of God’s wrath. And this anger and hatred has now spilled over onto our land.
But I also know that even if we add up all the sins of the entire past, present, and future of mankind, they still won’t be able to overshadow the mercy of God, which will inevitably overtake us if we repent! After all, the Lord has said to each of us: Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Let us try to hurry to God, through the bosom of our Mother Church, where we will find joy and consolation!