Impressions of Mats’kivtsi.
Mats’kivtsi is a village situated within the borders of the city of Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine. One of our friars from the Mats’kivtsi friary is taking a course at the major seminary in Horodok, in the Diocese of Kamianets-Podilskyi. The course teaches priests how to provide professional assistance to war victims and veterans.
The chaplaincy movement in Ukraine started when hostilities broke out in the spring of 2014 [in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region]. At that time, the first priests, together with some volunteers, went to eastern Ukraine. This initially spontaneous activity focused on helping the people in the war zone and occasionally the soldiers in the area of military operations. It developed into an organized movement under the patronage of the Ukrainian episcopate and received the approval of the state authorities.
These courageous clergymen were the ones who started the chaplaincy movement. Over several years, the Ukrainian government worked on drafting a law on military chaplaincy. It consulted with representatives from various religions in Ukraine and with military experts from other countries as well, especially those from the United States and Canada. The law went into effect during the war, on July 1, 2022.
Credit for this is due to those priests who, as volunteers, went regularly to the [Donbass] front for eight years, visited soldiers in military units, administered the sacraments to them and spoke with those returning from the front lines. Because of those priests, chaplaincy has become an official part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. By showing courage and dedication, often at the risk of losing their lives, these priests earned the respect and trust of the soldiers.
Now, a year after the start of a large-scale war, the situation has changed to such an extent that a priest does not need to look for soldiers—the soldiers more often are looking for a priest and inviting him to serve as a chaplain in their own military unit.
What’s my story?
I was born in Lithuania, spent my childhood in Russia and my youth in Ukraine. I grew up in a military family. My parents worked professionally in the military. Most of my acquaintances served, or are serving, in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Since the beginning of the war, I have stayed in contact with them, and they often came to see me at the friary after they completed a tour of military service, to talk, to go to confession and to participate in the liturgy. Because of these encounters, the desire arose in me to become more involved in army ministry. Therefore, in September of 2022, after receiving permission from my religious superior, I enrolled in a training course to minister as a chaplain in the army. I also familiarized myself with what literature was available on the subject. I found it especially important to talk to chaplains who were very experienced and were already serving on the front lines.
The military chaplaincy can be divided into three parts. The first part is assisting soldiers during military service and frontline military operations. The second part is caring for wounded soldiers in hospitals and hospices, and the third part is assisting the families of soldiers and civilians affected by the war.
Thanks to the support of volunteers, people of good will, and our friars around the world, we have been able to provide aid to those who are fighting and those who are suffering from the war. It has mainly been food aid. We also provide sleeping bags, sleeping mats, clothing, and even medical supplies to soldiers.
At the friary, children paint pictures and make camouflage nets, while their parents make energy bar snacks and produce candles for heating. These are small things, but to the soldiers they are precious gifts, because they let them know that someone remembers them, that someone supports and prays for them.
For me, the most important things in ministry are prayer, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Mass. It is hard to explain, but the defenders of the country need our prayers and respond to them like no one else. Therefore, at our Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, we offer Mass and recite the Rosary for our soldiers fighting in the east, for the volunteers, for the civilian workers and for all those who protect our country and keep it functioning.
There are now many chaplains working in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but more than one hundred volunteers are still needed. The sick and wounded in hospitals throughout the country are also waiting for chaplains.
We extend our heartfelt thanks to all those who are praying for peace in Ukraine, to all those helping in various ways, to all of the friars and to people of good will.
Our friary has been sending humanitarian aid to the eastern territories and hospitals. So far, we have distributed nine tons of foodstuffs; two and a half tons of medical supplies; four tons of chemicals; one and a half tons of technical equipment; three tons of mattresses, sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, and bedding; and seven tons of clothing and footwear.
Friar Artur SPODAR