Pastor Oleksandr Khomchenko who was brutally beaten and tortured because he prayed for his country in the center of Donetsk, testified in Brussels last week. There was the preliminary hearing of the investigation results of Russian militaries' crimes in Ukraine. The hearing was held in the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
On the day of leaving for Belgium, Oleksandr Khomchenko was rather nervous. He repeated several times, “I'm flying to Belgium and I don’t know whether I should do it. Are they able to hear our voices?” Three Ukrainians, who, being captured, experienced tortures and indignities, went to Belgium to the preliminary hearing of the investigation results of Russian militaries' crimes in Ukraine on Monday. A lot of people remember Iryna Dovhan's story. She is from the town of Yasinuvata, the Donetsk region. She was arrested for helping the Ukrainian army. She was covered with a Ukrainian flag and tied to a pole, with a plate “She kills our kids” in her hands. She is an agent of chasteners. Passers-by spit in her face and beat her... Student from Lviv Yuriy Yatsenko spent a year in prison. She was arrested being accused of keeping 41 grams of hunting gun powder, which was not true.
Left to right: Oleksandr Khomchenko, Yuriy Yatsenko, Iryna Dovhan. The photo of the author.
When these people got to the safe territory, they were interviewed by Polish police officers — EU Parliament Deputy Malhorzata Hosevska set out to collect evidence and to prove in the Court in The Hague that Russia is a sponsor of terrorists in Ukraine. However, “I cannot understand why Polish people are worrying about our fate, but our law enforcers are not”, Oleksandr Khomchenko shrugs his shoulders. “Ukrainian Security Service officers asked me only about the call names and names of my torturers. They were not interested in the things they did to me. It was Polish people who claimed to The Hague Court presenting evidence that “L-DPR” are international terrorist organizations sponsored by Russia”.
Oleksandr showed me pictures taken in the spring and summer, 2014. In the very center of Donetsk, in Constitution Square, his parishioners of the church “The Word of Life” (where he was a presbyter) and like-minded people fixed a tent for praying.
“We invited representatives of all confessions and every day had a joint praying ceremony. However, Moscow patriarchate priests were not there with us. At the beginning, about 300 people came to pray. But the situation was changing with every passing day. The number of militants increased, and less and less people came to pray as they could be killed even for a yellow-and-blue band on clothes. Over time we took the bands off too. In July, our tent was attacked four times by the militants from “Oplot” battalion and former “Berkut” members who supported terrorists. We tried to explain them that we were praying for Ukraine, for all the people living in the country, but it did not help. Our equipment was damaged and the tent destroyed. However, we kept coming to the place at six every evening. Church representatives stopped coming: some of them were threatened to be shot if they came; others were scared ... I was also asked why I kept coming. They said that God hears you even if you are in the basement; what this heroism was for. But I could not leave the people. Some of the came up to me, took me by the hand saying that I was the only island of common sense among the horror. People needed support; they needed these praying and meetings”.
The praying marathon in the center of Donetsk lasted for 158 days. Every evening Oleksandr served here. A photo from the family album.
Oleksandr took families with small and sick children out of Donetsk to the territory controlled by Ukraine. At that time it was possible to get out driving on country roads, and checkpoints were not everywhere.
“Everyone who came to us in the square was given a telephone number: people could call if they needed help with leaving Donetsk. We asked owners of big buses to help us. I took out of Donetsk myself in my car families with disabled people. Once, a very young girl with a baby was in my car. Grads were shelling between Yasinuvata and Avdiivka. The earth was shaking. I asked locals how to drive through. They waved to a very respectable club for rich people “Tsar's Hunting”. We were passing by and I saw people on the terrace. They were eating, drinking, and relaxing as if there weren't any shelling. And I thought that our war is somewhat strange, a “contract” war. As far as I know the club was not hit by shells that year... We passed by, the young mother was crying, and I told her, “Pray the way you can. God will help you!”
Violetta Kirtoka, “Facts”
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