‘I see no path to reconciliation until evil is called evil’

The mass grave at the Temple of St. Andrii the First-Called in Bucha became the last refuge for Ukrainians who suffered from Russian aggression. How do we overcome discord and hatred? Is it possible to overcome them?
Andrii Didenko09 May 2024UA DE EN ES RU

Unfortunately, it is not yet time to draw conclusions. The war is not over, and there is no victory yet. People continue to die at the front. There were many victims in Bucha: some lost their homes, some lost relatives, and some were forced to go abroad. Let’s say people recover from trauma differently. It happens more easily for some but is much more difficult for others. Many of our fellow citizens are fighting at the front. Women, mothers and children stay here. Mostly, men fight at the front, and, unfortunately, more and more heroes die every month.

I was here until about mid-March. I participated in the first funeral when there was a mass grave here.

Then the Russians started going from house to house: obviously, they had some kind of list. They came to some first and the others later. I could not perform divine services, and people could not be invited to the temple because it was dangerous, as the Russians were shooting and killing people. You see, the temple walls were shelled, so there was no way to perform worship. Just sitting in the basement was useless. It doesn’t matter where you sit. And I evacuated from Bucha. But while I was here, I was either at home or spent the night in the temple.

Протоієрей Андрій Галавін, настоятель храму Андрія Первозванного в Бучі, @ Андрій Діденко для ХПГ Archpriest Andrii Halavin, rector of the Church of St. Andrii the First-Called in Bucha, @ Andrii Didenko for KHPG Протоиерей Андрей Галавин, настоятель храма Андрея Первозванного в Буче, @ Андрей Диденко для ХПГ

Archpriest Andrii Halavin, rector of the Church of St. Andrii the First-Called in Bucha, @ Andrii Didenko for KHPG

At first, the Russians still pretended to be polite, but it shocked us when we learned about everything happening in the city. Before this, everyone sat in their basement; there was no opportunity to go to other areas. Those people who were buried on the temple’s territory, those 116 people, were people whose bodies were either in the morgue or lying nearby.

There was no way to pick up the bodies on Yablunska Street. People could lie on the street for a month. No one could bury them.

The people who lived in that neighborhood did not know that there was a mass grave here. We didn’t know what was happening there. Only when we were liberated did we see the atrocities the Russians had committed. This came as a shock to us.

On Ivan Franko Street, a singer who sang in our church choir lived there. There was no contact with him. After the liberation, we started looking for him. And it turned out that his family and two other people were tortured to such an extent that some were without legs. They were simply burned. The bodies were charred, and we had to wait several months for the results of DNA tests to confirm their identities legally. We understood who it was (based on specific marks). Still, the essential was not what we felt and understood but the evidence that could later be presented to the criminals during the tribunal, which would sooner or later take place.

Here, sooner or later, will be a prominent memorial. What we have now is temporary. We can’t just forget these people. There is a memorial cross where we come to pray. Recently, we erected structures with the names of people who died in the united Buchan community. There are about 500 names. These are people we know. There are surnames, but some do not have an exact date of death. For example, a person was murdered, but there were no witnesses to this murder. We can roughly guess when this person died. These are all residents.

When Lavrov addresses the UN — give us names — all the names are here. Come and see them.

@ Андрій Діденко для ХПГ @ Andrii Didenko for KHPG @ Андрей Диденко для ХПГ

@ Andrii Didenko for KHPG

I didn’t document anything. I have the keys to the temple on which territory all this is happening. I open the temple in the morning and close it in the evening. A lot happened before my eyes. The exhumation was carried out. The prosecutors of the International Criminal Court who worked here came with their DNA laboratory and helped us because they had rapid tests. We had a much lengthier wait before. I saw it happen. We are very grateful for their help. All relatives who were looking for their loved ones could take DNA tests, and if after some time, maybe six months or a year, a body was found, a person the Russians killed somewhere in a garage, in a basement, or buried in the forest, we will always have the opportunity to recognize this person using a DNA test.

We have several dozen missing people. That is, we understand that these people are somewhere. Some of these people were found in Russia — peaceful people with nothing to do with military affairs. They are in prisons in Russia. But some people’s whereabouts are unknown. And there is a possibility that, unfortunately, the number of those killed will increase. That’s why there are empty nameplates. If necessary, we can add data.

Were there people who were initially unidentified but later recognized?

Yes. I talked about the singer in our temple. The problem was that only the mother’s relatives could take a DNA test. The entire family perished — mother, father, son, uncle. The mother’s sister took a DNA test, and first, they found the mother. Then, they did comparative tests looking for the son. And then, they looked for the father using the son’s DNA. We had to wait several months until all these tests and examinations were completed. Therefore, these people were buried as unidentified. We knew who was buried where, and when the time came, we reburied them together as one family, as identified. New test results are coming. Relatives may be somewhere abroad. When they return, they can take a DNA test, and the people buried as unidentified will be identified after some time. We have such cases.

Таблички з іменами біля храму Андрія Первозванного в Бучі, @ Андрій Діденко для ХПГ Nameplates near the Church of St. Andrii the First-Called in Bucha, @ Andrii Didenko for KHPG Таблички с именами возле храма Андрея Первозванного в Буче, @ Андрей Диденко для ХПГ

Nameplates near the Church of St. Andrii the First-Called in Bucha, @ Andrii Didenko for KHPG

Ukraine and Russia were called fraternal peoples for many years, saying that we are one whole. Now there is such discord, such hatred, such enmity... The so-called brotherly people attacked Ukraine, and we see traces of destruction in this temple.

How do we overcome this hatred, this discord? Is it even possible? How long will it take to mollify these two nations?

History says that, in theory, this is possible. A striking example is the Second World War when Nazi Germany attacked us. But now Germany is one of the countries that helps us. I also talked with journalists and official delegations that come here. There are no barriers and no questions for them. The descendants and grandchildren of those who were occupiers here have nothing to do with the war. However, they are still pained by what happened and feel their responsibility. It is important to them that this never happens again.

Протоієрей Андрій Галавін, @ Андрій Діденко для ХПГ Archpriest Andrii Halavin, @ Andrii Didenko for KHPG Протоиерей Андрей Галавин, @ Андрей Диденко для ХПГ

Archpriest Andrii Halavin, @ Andrii Didenko for KHPG

When criminals are punished, evil is called evil, and those who commit crimes repent and ask for forgiveness, then the path to reconciliation opens.

Maybe it takes decades. At present, we see a completely different situation in our relations with Russia. Nobody is going to repent. Nobody admits their crimes. On the contrary, they say they can repeat it. They accuse us of fascism, of some other absurd things. Therefore, I see no way to reconcile until there are tribunals, the criminals are punished, and evil is called evil.

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