Since 2014, the city of Donetsk has been under constant artillery fire from the Ukrainian army because of its declaration of itself as the capital of the Donets Peoples’ Republic. For the past month or more, artillery fire has increased, and there is no place in that city and its surrounding villages that is safe. The Ukrainian army is too close to its borders, and with the help of long-range missiles provided to it by Western countries, it has been relentlessly bombarding civilian targets.
On June 23, Fr. Victor Pedchenko, head priest of the Annunciation Church in Donetsk, was wounded by a shell fired intentionally at the church where he was working. Last week, Pravoslavie.ru published a video interview with Fr. Victor who is still being treated in the hospital. We provide an English translation of the interview below.
On June 23, at 2:00 in the afternoon we were working on the grounds of the Church of the Holy Royal Martyrs in the city of Donetsk. We were preparing for the feast of All the Saints Who Shone Forth in the Russian Land. That day is the anniversary of my ordination into the priesthood. We were clearing the weeds, mowing the grass, watering—generally working as much as we could. There are no people, we were doing it all by ourselves. And then suddenly, about five meters away from me there was a flight [a missile.—L.T.], out of the blue. Some officers were there, they came to me and said, “Batiushka, that’s impossible. There could have been only one kind of wound for you: mortal, because it doesn’t happen any other way“. There was a man nearby, about twenty meters away—it killed him; we buried him a week ago. Elena, my assistant, was shot right through the shoulder; she wasn’t far from me. [Text on the video: The shelling came from 155 millimeter NATO artillery]. I was near the monument to Tsar Nicholas Alexandrovich, the Emperor, our church is dedicated to him; and I know for sure, I believe, understand, and think that that it could only be through the intercessions and prayers of Tsar Nicholas that the Lord had mercy on me. My vital organs were not hit, only my arms and legs were wounded…
—Batiushka, I know that you were put on the operating table, and they removed the shrapnel…
—Yes, shrapnel, and they looked again today—they still haven’t been able to find one piece. Well, during this war many people are walking around with shrapnel, because it’s a terrible war and there are many shrapnel wounds. They operated on me, removed shrapnel, and now they are doing procedures, flushing out the wounds with hydrogen peroxide—well, everything they’re supposed to do. The doctors give me their attention, glory be to God, and I am simply lying here—in the institute of the central hospital of the city of Donetsk.
—Tell us—does it turn out that they were aiming at the church?
—Yes. They are constantly firing at our church—I don’t know why. We’ve repaired it several times already. We’ve replaced the windows and doors.
—This is in the village of Gornyak?
—Yes, the village of Gornyak, but it’s within the Donetsk city limits, not outside Donetsk. It’s within the limits of Donetsk, fifteen minutes from the center of town.
—Well, today we went to Donetsk and all was well, but we were informed that again there was shelling at the Budennov region, and a ten-year-old girl was killed. Is that how it is every day?
—Godless ones. This is satanism. Demons. How could they do it? Priests, children, the elderly, women… Well, what can I say? I do not experience hatred, only pity. May God have mercy on them and convert them to Orthodoxy, turn them to repentance. Let them eat the dirt, let them repent, weep, restore the cities, bring flowers to the graves, take care of the mothers whose people they killed [meaning, children.—L.T.]. It seems to me that this is the only way out. As a priest, I see that only through this must they go—to understanding and restoration of relations. Everything else is complicated.1
The video camera focuses on the priest’s wounded arm, with enormous hematomas.
—Batiushka, I understand that that is a shrapnel wound on your arm.
—Yes, it went in here, it went in here (he shows his arm). It’s the same with my leg and hip. Yes. But I see God’s Providence in this, because it could have been a Pannikhida2 that they served at home. Today my sons who are priests came in the morning and served a moleben, gave me Unction, and Holy Communion. Today I’m in a wonderful disposition of spirit! (He smiles).
—Thank you. So, you consider that it was the Tsar-Batiushka… You were by his monument; you have a monument to him there. Tell us about this monument, how do you have it there in the first place—there in Donetsk?
—Ours is the best church in the world (smiles)! People used to laugh when I would say that—“batiushka loves his church and boasts”. I am not boasting, but I love it. And that’s how it should be. My friends brought this monument to the church—Mikhail Mikhailovich, Vasily, Renat. They brought it, but through obstacles. It wasn’t so simple. It was hard to bring it; they didn’t want to allow the Tsar-Batiusha in. Various fake news was thrown around, the internet was full: Why do we need the Tsar? He didn’t work in the mines. But did Christ work in the mines?
—But we passed by a grandiose monument to Lenin that stands in Donetsk central square.
—For now, it stands there, yes. Well, God be with them. Let it stand there, it doesn’t bother us. In order not to offend the feeling of other people, and so that there wouldn’t be civil strife amongst our own. But the Tsar… You know, we have the best monument. It was made by the Moscow sculptor Apollonov. I have seen many monuments to the Tsar, in Livadia and so on. But Batiushka Tsar… I built him a canopy and I’ll build a better one. With imperial flags, the two-headed eagle. God save the Tsar [the hymn of the Russian Empire.—L.T.] It will all be as it should. It already is—we hold services there. And not far from it, literally next to it, this event happened.
—Did the monument receive any hits?
—I asked my people to look—there doesn’t seem to be anything. The church is damaged, but the Tsar-Batiushka is apparently untouched, glory be to God. Apparently, this event was a sign—a martyric church has a priest’s blood spilled on it. The sisters gathered it—there was a lot of blood there, and they buried it in the garden, in the Tsar’s garden—we have a beautiful Tsar’s garden there. A priest’s blood should be taken to a place that can’t be defiled. There was a fountain of blood there; I bound it with a tourniquet, and people helped me. Well, no matter, it’s all passed now, and the emotions have calmed. Well, of course it’s bad. With this they only underscored the whole truth of the tragedy of this fratricidal war.