The Russian National Guard occupying the coastal city of Berdyansk, Ukraine, last week captured two priests of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and accused them of having committed “subversive” and “guerrilla” activities.
Redemptorist priests Father Hieromonk Ivan Levystky, abbot of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary church, and Father Bohdan Geleta, who also serves at the church, were accused of allegedly possessing weapons, ammunition, and books on Ukrainian history that were in a parish building.
The Donetsk Exarchate denied the accusations, calling the detention “unfounded and illegal,” and demanded the prompt release of the clerics.
“From the beginning of the large-scale war of the Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine until the day of their arrest, the activities of both priests did not go beyond the scope of their pastoral duties,” a Nov. 25 statement from the exarchate affirmed.
“At the time of the search of the church and the adjacent rectory and premises of the parish, both priests were already under arrest; that is, they could not control these premises and the actions of the Russian National Guard in any way,” the statement pointed out.
“They cannot bear any responsibility for the weapons and ammunition allegedly found in those places. This is clear slander and a false accusation,” the local Church stressed.
The Donetsk Exarchate said that the behavior of the Russian local authorities toward the Ukrainian clergy “can only have one assessment: complete disregard for the fundamental principles of human rights.”
“Only because of their loyalty to God and the Church [have] the aforementioned ‘accusations’” been leveled against the priests, the exarchate said.
“Considering the above,” the exarchate said, “we demand the prompt release from custody and imprisonment of our priests, as well as ensuring their unhindered legal service to the spiritual needs of the faithful of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church who live in Berdyansk.”
“We ask for the maximum dissemination of information in order to free the captive fathers. We appeal to the authorities and all people of goodwill with a request to join the cause for the release of priests, as well as for increased prayer in this regard. Merciful God, hear our prayers!” the Donetsk Exarchate’s statement concluded.