The news and images leave no room for doubt. Russian troops are already in Kiev, very close to the Ukrainian Parliament. We spoke with the Ukrainian priest, chaplain Ivan Lypka, who yesterday evening celebrated Mass for the Ukrainian community in Madrid, and then led an Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament praying for his country and its people. His entire family resides in Ukraine. Some of his words may become 'old' in a few hours, because the seizure of Kiev is already taking place, as can be seen.
You have been serving the Ukrainian community in Spain for many years.
- Yes. About twenty years. I came from Ukraine. In the province there are about twenty thousand of us. In these years that I have been here I organized three sites. In Alcalá de Henares, in Getafe and here in Madrid, where the Ukrainian colony was organized, and the chaplaincy. The previous cardinal was very interested. The first Ukrainians began to arrive in 1997, due to an economic crisis, and they stayed here to work to support their families. There are many people who are already residents in Spain and have Spanish nationality. And there are young people who have already finished their studies here.
Many Ukrainians will have relatives back home....
- My family, my parents, my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, are there, the whole family is there. Before there were only two provinces in this conflict, but now it is a total war, everywhere.
What news reaches them?
- They are always beeping sirens, to go to places shielded by bombing. I spoke to my brother this morning. Every night he has to hide, he doesn't know when they are going to attack. Yesterday they were attacking important places, airports, military bases, they also dropped bombs on places where people live, and they are approaching the streets. Now they tend to the capital. Belarus is very close.
Are there people among your relatives or non-relatives with the idea of leaving the country? Or do they want to stay?
- It is not clear. To leave or to stay you have to have time to think. The conflict began in 14. Politicians were working, yesterday the military began. Now it is not known. There are many dead, wounded, the whole Ukraine right now is at war, they are fighting in different places, because they are entering from different roads, from all sides. They are attacking also from the air.
We pray for you, for peace, as Pope Francis has asked.
- We have been struggling for years to start up and lift the economy. Many people have to take care of their work, because that is what we live on, and we help the family we have there.
In addition, yesterday evening we had a Mass, and then a Vigil for peace in the parish, to end it all. Then a Vigil with the youth of the parish and the Ukrainian community. And a group stayed to adore the Lord all night in the chapel. We will continue these days.
What would you like to see happen now? Make an appeal to political leaders.
- It is a necessity. This has to be stopped as soon as possible. Politicians have everything in their hands, and they can stop this slaughter. The people are not to blame. Our president [Volodymir Zelensky] says it very clearly: Ukraine does not want to fight with anyone, it is not attacking anyone. Now, these days, we are defending our freedom, our independence, our culture, our faith as well, our homes, our families, our country.
In your country there is an orthodox majority....
- Yes, we are Greek Catholics, and there is also a Latin Rite Catholic community. Most of them are Orthodox, yes.
On this issue, they will all be united.
- I think so. Now is a time for unity. Unity. To defend the faith, the Church, the culture, our country, because it is very important. Ukraine has already said a thousand times, and very clearly, politicians, bishops, etc., that Ukraine wants to live in freedom, as the whole world is asking now, especially Europe, democracy, and so on. And that is what the Ukrainian people want, I think.
I am very grateful for your prayers. They need it, also the military who are defending peace and Ukraine.
Catholic priests in Ukraine number more than 4,800, and women religious more than 1,300.
- When the conflict began in '14, the Pope organized a worldwide collection throughout the Catholic Church. Those collections were dedicated to help the people who were in the conflict, in these two provinces that are now under Russian control. There representatives of organizations could come in to bring necessary things; food, medicine, etc.
Are Ukrainians lacking food, food, now?
- I think there is going to be a shortage, but we don't know yet. Today is the second day. Nobody expected this, and people are getting organized. Everybody with a good, normal head thought that this was not going to happen, because what is the reason to start a war inside Europe? There is no explanation for this.
Chaplain Ivan Lypka says at the farewell: "We need a very special weapon, prayer. There are people who are in the front row, but those who pray are also supporting a lot, because we are defending the truth, and our tradition in faith, because you don't know what can happen next. Ukraine is a peaceful people, who want to live from their work, care for and support their family."