July 27, 2015
MARIANA KARAPINKA
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

LYIV, UKRAINE – Ukrainian Catholic Father Tykhon Kulbaka was headed to the chapel in the room rented by the local Catholic community.

En route, he stopped at a store, where four men grabbed him, blindfolded him and made him breathe chloroform.

That was July 4, 2014. When the priest woke up, he told Catholic News Service, he was "in a small room with a window blurred and walls painted with ugly green colour."

The priest said he knew he was detained for helping to organize an interfaith peace prayer initiative in Donetsk, the city which became a headquarters for Russian-backed separatists and various gangs that occupied Eastern Ukraine.

At the time, he said he did not know who captured him. He suffered cold, sickness and humiliation. The torturers also took his diabetes medicine.

MOCK EXECUTIONS

He survived three mock executions.

"They put me near the wall and shot over my head. When it happened for the first time, I was so scared that I fainted. But they laughed, they had fun," the priest recalled.

On the eighth day, a man with a Russian accent accused Kulbaka of being a Catholic. It was not even interrogation, Kulbaka said, noting it was more of the monologue of accusations and jeer.

"He said that we are enemies" in the Novorussia, the self-proclaimed New Russia. The man told him there was "no place for Uniates (Ukrainian Catholics), schismatics (Russian Orthodox of the Kyiv Patriarchate), and sectarians (Protestants)."

The kidnappers called themselves the Russian Orthodox Army. The hierarchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has denounced the group.

After three days, the "interrogations" were over.

Kulbaka said on the 12th day of his captivity, his captors put him in his car, left him in a small forest and gave back a cellphone and a laptop.

SPIRITUAL BATTLE

After he reached Kyiv, he lapsed into a diabetic coma and, for few days, was in very poor condition. But his spiritual battle began when he regained consciousness.

"The first emotions that I felt when I woke up in the hospital were hatred, fear and desire for revenge," he recalled. "These three days I did not sleep. Three days of emotional captivity that was much worse than a physical captivity."

At some point, he started praying for his torturers.

"Prayer was the instrument that transformed me and my attitude to them. And the Lord touched my heart," he said.

"Forgiveness has changed my physical condition," he said. He started recovering from the consequences of the captivity – a recurrence of cancer, a stomach ulcer and other diseases.

Kulbaka said he treasures his current feeling of peace. "I'm now so calm and peaceful that if I saw people who kidnapped me, I would come and hug them."