Ukrainians pray in bombed-out church as they dig their heels in for a harsh winter

The congregation hopes for deliverance from the war that has destroyed so many lives, as John Irvine reports

We assumed the church had been abandoned. It is after all a bombed-out shell. There’s a big hole in the roof, the windows are shattered and the interior gutted by fire.

But when we got to the Church of the Ascension in the snow-covered village of Lukashivka, we found an Orthodox priest conducting a service in the scorched entrance hall. There were half a dozen people in the congregation.

Against the odds this was a place of worship once more.

They huddled and shivered and because they had very little shelter from the elements he kept it brief.

The Russians occupied this part of northern Ukraine during the spring. They used the church to store weapons.

The layer of snow softened the view but there was no disguising the destruction wrought in Lukashivka. As well as the church, many houses were destroyed.

The congregation at the church is determined.

I asked the priest, Father Serhii Zezul, if Vladimir Putin would be able to break the will of the Ukrainian people.

He told me that despite the destroyed church and homes, despite the difficulties keeping warm without electricity, people remained strong.

They came to the church service with bags of thick socks to donate to Ukrainian soldiers.

They also brought books and other forms of literature written in Russian. Father Zezul said no one wanted to read Russian anymore and that the items would be recycled to make money to buy drones for the Ukrainian Army.

“The will of the people is unbreakable and Putin will never be able to do it,” he said. Close to the church, we met Irina, who has turned her chicken coup into a makeshift home.

She had to do so because in the battle for the village her house was destroyed.

“It happened a while ago, but I still think this is a nightmare from which I will wake up to find my house still standing,” she told me.

As we chat, her dog Nadim comes looking for food. Irina told us he was literally deafened by exploding shells. They landed so close to him he lost his hearing.

She told us that during the weeks of occupation Russian soldiers kicked him so much he responded by lifting his leg on their boots.

In Lukashivka resistance took many forms.  It is firmly in Ukrainian hands again and the resolve of the people is something to behold.

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