(ANS – Kiev) – Saying Mass, taking Communion and confessing soldiers and civilians while there is war around with its load of suffering and death, it is not easy; but a priest supported by faith, community and charism is also called to face similar challenges. As does Oleh Ladnyuk, Salesian, teacher, and since 2014 also military chaplain, who today recounts the hard experience of the war, what drives him and what helps him from his past experience; and also the “miracles” he witnesses every time he has managed to escape death under gunfire and bombing.

It’s love that pushes a priest to stay in this situation; having military experience certainly helpsbecause – he says – danger is everywhere and you need to understand the psychology of those around you to help the soldiers and not be in the way. And then you need a state of mind ready to see death and suffering, winning over themselves, without sinking into pain, rather trying to establish a good relationship with everyone. The Salesians are facilitated in this, Fr Ladnyuk explains, drawing on his experience in the oratories also in Italy. In fact, it is here that you get used to meeting everyone without distinction.

Salesian formation helped me a lot: the experience of the speakers gets you used to dealing with people of all kinds; then, a good habit of the Salesians is also physical fatigue, which does not hurt in war, and also the psychological formation we are used to. This is our preparation – he says -. But the challenges are not lacking, first of all that of how to overcome suffering. They ask me – he confesses -. ‘How can you not lose faith?’ And they tell me they see God in me. For me this is the challenge ”.

A great support for those who, like Fr Ladnyuk, work in war theaters, is to know that they are not alone, but that there is a community that prays, that hopes, that helps them. “They call me, they also write to me from Italy” e the miracles of prayer are seenat least in the many times in which he saved himself under fire and the roar of bombs thanks to the protection of Mary.

What is the most important commitment today? The service calls Fr Ladnyuk these days to say Mass, to confess, to distribute Communion, more in the rear than on the front line. Then there is the activity required in hospitals and villages, where there are still many civilians left, and there are always those who want to leave the country. In all his activity he reckons that he helped to escape at least 500 people, but there could be many more, also because – he remembers – in the first months “I loaded my van with many, many people and I didn’t count them”.

On his rescue trips, Fr Ladnyuk cares for everyone: he brings food and medicines to the people left in Ukraine to suffer, delivers aid to hospitals where the wounded are treated, visits the military and also transports food for the many domestic animals that during the war they have been abandoned and are now being cared for by those who had compassion for them and collected them.

The most touching and difficult experience was that of having taken children away without their parents: “They entrusted them to me because they trusted me and wanted me to take them to safe places”. Fortunately, today they all reunited.

“Then the experience with young people – he adds – is the most difficult, but also the one closest to Salesian spirituality. When they come away they don’t want to talk, and I respect their silence, then when they enter our Salesian house, the barriers fall and they cry with me ”.

“We priests always remember that Jesus was always with the least, the poorest – concludes the Salesian – And if we have the possibility we must help these people, even if they are not our parishioners we must show them that, through us, God does not he abandons them; we must give them hope ”.

Source: Vatican News

Ukraine – Fr Ladnyuk, SDB: “We must help people and show that, through us, God does not abandon them”