1. A military chaplain in Ukraine reports from the front lines

“Russians hunt us down -- they know who we are,” said Fr. Maxim from the besieged city of Kherson.

Amilitary chaplain, Fr. Maxim from the Orthodox parish of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dariyvka, n. Kherson (Kiyv Patriarchate), shares a heartrending story of the fighting and reality of the Russian occupation of Ukraine.

Fr. Maxim offered an insight into his current extremely difficult ministry in an interview with MarketWatch. When on February 24 it became clear that Ukraine had been attacked, the priest and his friends from the 124th territorial armybattalion gathered at a collection point, where they were assigned automatic weapons. The chaplain recalls that this was a sunny morning and spring was in the air. All were aware, however, that a watershed moment in the history of contemporary Europe had begun.

The Ukrainian soldiers had been aware of the risk of Russian invasion for many months. As soon as they had received arms, their unit was attacked by a squadron of Russian helicopters. A few of Fr. Maxim’s friends sustained injuries. “Those first three days flew by like one. There was no time for sleep, for eating or even for praying,” he told MarketWatch.

“Even though I’m a priest, I have the full moral right to take up arms to defend my people and my family,” argues the chaplain. On the very first day of the fighting his unit was under Grad rocket barrages. Fr. Maxim was also a witness to Russians opening fire on the civilians trying to flee the city.

On the fifth day, however, the valiant chaplain’s unit were finally overwhelmed and forced to retreat to the nearby city of Nikolaev. This is where a new front line was formed. According to Fr. Maxim, the city of Kherson was looted by the Russian troops, who stole civilian cars and ransacked mobile phone stores.

Fr. Maxim himself and some soldiers have remained in the city, where he is in hiding from the Russians. “We know they hunt us down and we know that they know who we are. For the time being, all we can do is wait and keep a low profile,” concludes the priest.

Kherson is a port city of over 300,000 residents. It is situated in the mouth the Dnieper River to the Black Sea. It was clear from the beginning of the war that due to its strategic location, Kherson would be one of the principal targets of the Russians advancing from the Crimea. After a week of heavy fighting, the city was seized by the aggressor on March 2. So far, it is the largest metropolis taken over by the Russians.

Despite repressions and arrests (according to the Ukrainians, the Russians have already imprisoned more than 400 people in town), the residents of Kherson continue to take to the streets to demonstrate against the occupiers. Skirmishes with groups of Ukrainian soldiers take place regularly on the outskirts of the city. The volatile situation and the attitude of the occupiers prevent the evacuation of civilians from Kherson. The Russians are blocking food and medical supplies and have launched an extensive propaganda campaign, replacing the Ukrainian communications media and mobile phone networks with Russian ones.

2. This 11-year-old fled the Ukraine war on his own

Many people helped him on his way, and the volunteers at the border gave him food and warm clothes.

He was carrying a backpack and a plastic bag, and he had a phone number written on his arm with a pen. His parents had to stay in Ukraine. His mom could not leave her own mother, who required assistance, and his father went off to fight in the war. The family was confronted with a dramatic choice: either to risk the boy’s life in a war-torn country, or to let him escape, alone. They opted for the latter.

On his own

The boy fled Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, headed towards the border with Slovakia, and then went towards the capital city of Bratislava, where he has relatives. All alone, he covered the distance of about 1,300 kilometers. Slovakia’s Interior Ministry called the brave 11-year-old “last night’s biggest hero.”

He reached his destination safe and sound. On the way, he was helped by many kind people, including the volunteers who fed him at the border. As the Slovak Interior Ministry wrote on social media, “He endeared himself to everyone with his smile, fearlessness and determination worthy of a true hero.”

A true hero

Thanks to the phone number written on his arm and a piece of paper in his passport, it was possible to contact the boy’s relatives, who came to collect him.

Zaporizhzhia, the town the boy escaped from, has recently been the target of ruthless artillery fire. It was there that the Russians first bombed and then took over a nuclear power plant.