Inside Ukraine: praying for peace in the shadow of war
It was mid-morning as we drove up to the Ukrainian marine base at Perevalnoe.
Russian soldiers were ranged along the wall, and as I looked left I could see dozens of Russian military trucks in the lee of the hill where the Ukrainians normally do their training.
Suddenly, I heard the sound of chanting. An Orthodox priest was approaching the soldiers with his golden casket of holy water.
As he sang his incantations and sprayed the soldiers using a brush, local people ran alongside clapping.
I wondered if the Russian soldiers thought God was on their side – most armies have believed that through history.
A few yards up the road, we came across a baffled young man looking at the scene wide-eyed. He said: “I’m not happy about this – who are these people?
“I am Crimean, Russian and Ukrainian.
” I feel that I am all of these three, and I don’t want to be occupied.”
Further down the road, Ukrainian marines were standing with their noses to the railings of another part of the base, looking stonily at their Russian counterparts.
They have been given orders from Kiev to fight the Russians but Ukrainian and Russian forces have also worked together, especially the marines as the Ukrainian naval force is co-located with the Russian Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol.
Some of the Russian soldiers are believed to have come from the Sevastopol base – it’s like asking old comrades to fight each other.
A crowd gathered – two old women in head scarves berated an elderly man carrying a huge Russian flag: “You don’t come from here,” they shouted. “We support our Ukrainian soldiers.”
Peravalnoe has a large population of Ukrainians, as well as Russian speakers, some of whom had even been to Kiev to take part in the pro-European demonstrations there.
One young man said to me “I am going to stand between the Russian and Ukrainian forces.
“They must not fight.”
The Orthodox priest was there as well. His aim, he told me, was not to bless the Russian forces above the Ukrainians, but to bless them both and pray for peace.
That’s something many people in the Ukraine will be doing today.
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