OXFORD, England (CNS) — Members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church are fleeing Crimea to escape threats of arrest and property seizures, a priest told Catholic News Service just four days after Russia finalized the region’s annexation.
“The situation remains very serious, and we don’t know what will happen — the new government here is portraying us all as nationalists and extremists,” said Father Mykhailo Milchakovskyi, a parish rector and military chaplain from Kerch, Crimea.
He said officials from Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, had called him in for questioning about his community and to ask whether he “recognized the new order.”
Father Milchakovskyi told CNS that he and his family and at least two-thirds of his parishioners had left Kerch for Ukrainian-controlled territory on the advice of Ukrainian Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych.
“All my parishioners are patriotic Ukrainians who love their Crimean homeland. But Russia is now seeking to drive us out,” he said March 25, adding that Father Mykola Kvych, pastor of the Dormition of the Mother of God Parish in Sevastopol, Crimea, also fled after being detained and beaten by Russian forces, who accused him of “sponsoring extremism and mass unrest.”
“We’re determined our church will not close up and abandon its mission, and we hope we’ll be given permits to return. But like others, we’ve had to leave our life and work behind, not knowing when we’ll be back. This is a time of suffering and anxiety,” Father Milchakovskyi said.