The government wanted to ruin Christian families. One of the famous ministers that created the law about family in USSR, A. Goichberg, said in 1920: “Family needs to be replaced with the communist party, because it (the family) is the main form of slavery”[i]. The USSR was the first country in the world to legalize abortions and divorces, in 1920.
Women were told: “Your body belongs first of all to the party.”[ii] It was stated that woman had to be free from family, husband, house and children. According to the USSR documents , 15 million women didn’t have to get married and had to work. Her strength was considered not any less of man’s: “Only the Soviet government sets a woman free! Only the government helps her to overthrow the slavery that she was in during the past centuries”[iii].
Starting in the 1920s, the government started proclaiming laws that were ruining the family. Youth were faced with slogans of “sexual freedom”, “freedom from family”, “Eros”, “free love” for all. The best way to free youth from “religious superstitions” was the fight against family. Oleksandra Kollontai, who was the head of the Department for Women’s Affairs (TSKKPRB) and Social Help (NARKOM) was especially productive in this field. Her slogan “Place for Eros!” was very popular among komsomolets. She explained this slogan with “the theory of a cup of water”, meaning “sexual relations are like drinking a cup of water”. The goal of the Red Party of women was “to free a woman from family, motherhood, religion and bourgeois moral”. Because of this propaganda, morals of youth and children became so horrible that even the newspaper “Izvestia” characterized it as “terrible”.
In Ukraine during the 1920s-30s, the whole pastoral system that was built during the previous 700 years was eliminated: there were no Catholic priests. The Catholic Church was persecuted more than other faiths because it was protesting more against the Soviet regime. Only strong faith and deep inner life could give Catholics the strength to survive during those times. Those who survived tell that often during inquests when they were asked: “Do you have gold?” the answer was: “Yes! My gold is my faith!.” And when they were asked: “What is the purpose of life?” they answered with confidence: “The purpose is God! He is everything for me and I will give my life for Him! I wouldn’t be able to live without God. He loves us very much and if we loved each other the way He loves us, how much kindness would be in the world! We would be looking only for Him and our heart would be striving to meet Him. We would understand that living and serving Him is the same thing. Get away from Him means to die.”[i]
“I was coming back from the forest when my husband ran to me and said he has to go to the railway station office. Police officers who were sitting in the car told him to get dressed and bring money. He understood that something was wrong! (crying proceeding with the story) He cried, picked up the child and we ran to the house. I gave him shoes and prepared some clothes; I was crying and my hands were trembling. He, hugging the child, was also crying. I gave him money, a jacket, he left the house, got in the car and left. I will never forget that moment! (crying) I was 18. I was in the street with the child in my hands, and my husband was waving at me from the back of the truck and he was getting further and further away from me. I was watching him until I couldn’t see him anymore. He told me not to cry because he will be back in the evening, but I have not seen him since March 17, 1938.”[ii]
Faith was supported in families thanks to catechism. When there still were parishes, catechism was taught by priests or catechists. When priests were imprisoned, their work was done by parents or more often grandparents because parents were working all day. In some parishes, there were people who after taking certain exams were certified to teach catechism.
“I still remember how Father Kotvitskyi was teaching catechism: we, children, were coming from seven different local towns, and the priest was put us on our knees in line near the church from both sides and taught us catechism.”[iii]
In 1940 Yaroslavskyi, the leader of the Association of the Atheistic fighters of the USSR was asked: “If we have all the resources of antireligious propaganda, why are there still millions of workers who haven’t left religion and the church?” And the answer was: “Those millions value their families.”[iv] “My Father was arrested in 1949. My mother was told to leave the house. We asked our relatives for help, but they told us to ask someone else, otherwise they will be qualified as “enemies of the nation”. We asked another family to help us, but they refused too and nobody helped us. We were left without school and work.”[v]
After returning from concentration camps, about 10 priests stayed in Ukraine. In the mid-fifties the number of parishes started to grow. In villages near Bar, Berdychiv, Horodok Podilskyi, Khmelnytskyi, Chernivtsi, Polonne, Sharhorod, Vinnytsia, people started attending Mass more often. The amount of Holy Communion that was given out during the Masses in 1956 showed how intense the religious life was. The amount of Holy Communion given out was 480000 in Horodok Podilskyi; 6000 in Bar; 2000 in Zmerynka[i].
The faithful had to travel long distance to attend Mass. In the 1960s, Yana Snihurska had to walk to the Catholic church in Polonne 25km away from her home, because at 9 o’clock there was a Holy Mass there. In her story she says: “Memories about it don’t make me sad. I was very happy to be in church, to have Holy Communion, because I wanted to be closer to God. We walked from the village Mudrygolov to Manykovets: Sundays we woke up at 4 o’clock in the morning and walked to the Holy Mass, received blessing from Father Yan and then walked home. The following day we had to go to work early in the morning. I went there approximately 30 times.”[ii]
Even in the 1960s during different periods of the liturgical year, when they couldn’t be in church because it was ruined, people were practicing their religion in the new way: “On Easter we were praying secretly. On these days we always had tears in our eyes. We were like the first Christians, because just like them we were hiding, while praying”[iii].
After churches were ruined, the faithful gathered for prayers near chapels and cemeteries and risked facing persecution again. For example, in the 70s in Chernivtsi, they threw rat poison at people who were praying at the cemetery. Here is what Mr. Bilinskyi said: “I remember how on 2 November, on the All Souls Day feast, people were at the cemetery walking in a procession with lit candles when armed people came and started pulling candles out of our hands and beating us in the head with them. I also remember how militias were throwing glass and burning branches at people who were praying in front of the chapel.”[i]
“Before the war, just like all the other doctors, the instructor told me to go to Dunaivtsi to fill out a questionnaire. I put where I come from, the name of my Father. The following question was “Do you have anybody from your family imprisoned or exiled?” I hesitated about what to say, so I left that question and continued filling in the questionnaire. If I say yes, I will have problems, if I say no I will have problems when everything is discovered. I prayed for help to the Holy Spirit, and after I was enlightened, I wrote that my Father was repressed. The commissar came up to me, read my answer and said: “Why did you put this? You did so well on your medical and military preparations exams.” He offered me to renounce my Father and his views. I started crying and confidently said that I won’t renounce him and that he was a very good person. The commissar told me that even after I pass all my exams I would not receive a military diploma. I confirmed my views and he tried to change them, reminding me that it was very easy and all I had to do was write “renounce from everything” and I would get a diploma. In order to reach his goal he gave me 10 minutes to think about it. “Renounce my Father?! No! Never!” When the commissar returned I once again confidently confirmed my views. I was told to go home and after I thought about it and changed my mind, come back and get my military diploma.
The war started in a week and a half. Everybody who received a diploma was mobilized to go to war. Everybody who worked with this doctor never came back. “One of them who went to school with me died right after he arrived there. Who knows, maybe if I renounced my Father I would never have come back either.”[ii]
Despite persecution and exile, Catholics had a strong faith in God and lived a good Christian life, as shown by their actions. Here is what witnesses say about it:
“My parents lived very well together and with other people. When we came back to Ukraine from exile, people gathered together as for a funeral and were crying and welcoming us. Our duty is to always be kind, even when others treat you the opposite way: you will win them over with your kindness. If someone is not talking to me, I will be the first one to say something. We have to be submissive and not arrogant like those who are the authority now. We have to like everyone the way Jesus loved us.”[iii]
Some people were saying: “If there is no love in your heart then what kind of faith is that?” and they showed evidence of it in many examples. Once during the war, the wife of one of the officials, who was Christian, was going to be arrested. When the militias came, they accidentally arrested her friend, who happily agreed to it. “You have two children and I am by myself, I am glad that I can replace you” – that was all that the arrested woman could say to her friend and she had only a few minutes. The last person to see her, before she was taken out to the concentration camp, said that she was smiling.[iv]
John Paul II said, “Faith is so important for nations and some people that very often they are ready to do anything just to be able to keep it.”[v]
[i]История Совецкой Конституции в декретах, Москва 1936, c. 114.
[ii]A. SOLZENICYN, Arcipelago Gulag I1: 1918-1956, Milano 1990, c. 12.
[iii]Безбожник5 (1925) 3.
[iv] М. КАРВАЦЬКА, с. Мудриголови, 06.09.2000, ст. 95, в П. ГОНЧАРУК, Духовнежиттяпереслідуванихосіб…,с. 48.
[v] Д. КВАСНЮК, с. Підлісний Мукарів, 26.12.2000, ст. 78,в П. ГОНЧАРУК, Духовнежиттяпереслідуванихосіб…, с. 34.
[vi] М. КАРВАЦЬКА, с. Мудриголови, 06.09.2000, ст. 95, в П. ГОНЧАРУК, Духовнежиттяпереслідуванихосіб…,с. 48.
[vii]Безбожник 21.04. (1940) 17.
[viii]Я. ОСТРОВСЬКА, м. Городок, 10.02.2001, ст. 116, в П. ГОНЧАРУК, Духовнежиттяпереслідуванихосіб…, с. 35.
[ix]S. STĘPIEŃ (red),PolacynaUkrainie. Zbiór dokumentów. Cz.1: lata 1917-1939, vol. II, Przemyśl 1999, с. 75.
[x]Я. СНІГУРСЬКА, м. Городок, 31.08.1999, ст. 65, в П. ГОНЧАРУК, Духовнежиттяпереслідуванихосіб…, с. 6.
[xi]Г. РАДЗІЄВСЬКОГО, м. Городок, 31.07.1999, ст. 53,в П. ГОНЧАРУК, Духовнежиттяпереслідуванихосіб…, с.57.
[xii]J. BILSKI, Wspomnienia,вZbiory własne autora, Bar 1993, с. 160.
[xiii]Г. КУЗЬМИНСЬКА, с.м.т. Станція Дунаївці, 30.10.2000, ст. 42,в Там само, с. 45.
[xiv]А. СМОТРИКОВСЬКИЙ, м. Кам’янець-Подільський, 10.11.2000, ст. 4, ,в Там само.
[xv]B. CAPLICKI, (a cura di), Martirologio cattolico, Mosca 1999, mp.
[xvi]B. CAPLICKI, (a cura di), Martirologio cattolico, Mosca 1999, mp.