When Father Ruslan Mikhalkiv returned on April 7 to the abandoned seminary outside Kyiv where he serves as rector, there was one thing that unsettled him above all others.
It wasn’t the garage, seemingly struck by a rocket, or the front door, which appeared to have been destroyed by an armored vehicle. Nor was it the empty spaces where coffee machines and routers were previously installed. It wasn’t even the bare spot once occupied by a chalice that Pope John Paul II had used during his visit to Ukraine.
It was the shattered statue of Our Lady of Fatima.
“I have been studying for days how exactly it was destroyed,” Mikhalkiv said after finding the Marian image on the floor of the dining room in the Major Theological Seminary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Vorzel.
“At first, we thought the military might have come in and overturned the figure, or perhaps it had been knocked over by a rocket explosion, because the windows there were also broken.”
“I also thought that a shell fragment might have hit the figure.”
Finally, Mikhalkiv settled on another theory about the statue, purchased by the seminary in Fatima, Portugal, for the 100th anniversary of the apparitions in 2017.
“In the end, I had the impression that it had been a blow from the devil to the Blessed Virgin Mary, just when we were consecrating Ukraine and Russia to her Immaculate Heart,” the priest said, referring to the worldwide act of consecration on March 25.
“I am not particularly prone to put things in such supernatural terms, but this affair struck me as very unusual.”
“The wily devil, when he loses, what can he do? Only destroy.”
Priests and students evacuated the seminary after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. They found refuge in the neighboring Diocese of Kamianets-Podilski. Russian troops occupied the area surrounding the seminary for weeks.
After they abandoned their positions around the end of March, a small group led by Father Mikhalkiv returned to the seminary in Vorzel, a village neighboring Bucha, where Russia is accused of killing hundreds of civilians.
“When we arrived in Vorzel, the first thing that struck us was an unusual silence,” the priest recalled. “We started to look around the seminary to see what had happened. We quickly realized that a rocket had destroyed our garage.”
“The windows of the remaining cars on the grounds had been shattered and their batteries had been stolen. The shock wave blew out the windows of the seminary.”
After consulting with the Ukrainian military, the group concluded that Russian soldiers had occupied the seminary. When they retreated, they took anything they deemed of value with them, including monstrances, a Bible with a decorated cover, and the chalice that John Paul II had used when he celebrated Mass in Kyiv on June 24, 2001.
Mikhalkiv and his companions had made the trip to assess when staff and students could return to the seminary in the Latin Rite Diocese of Kyiv-Zhytomyr. They concluded that they would have to finish this semester at Horodok, in the neighboring diocese.
“What the next semester will be like, it is difficult to say now, because there are many other practical matters,” the priest said.
“For example, there is not even crockery and utensils. We will have to buy them, and right now it is quite difficult to do that.”
As for the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, Father Mikhalkiv noted a further detail. While there is a gaping hole where the face used to be, the facial features themselves — including Our Lady’s dark, wide eyes — were found almost perfectly intact.
“Interestingly, the face of the Virgin Mary has been preserved,” Mikhalkiv said. “I have already started to pick up some pieces, I am sure we will restore it. It will be a special sign for us. Time will tell.”