Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The poet and publicist Anna Revyakina spoke with Father Feofan — the former clergyman of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed] and hieromonk who spent more than a month in Ukrainian captivity in 2015…
I met Father Feofan in Moscow at the end of December 2018 in the book-store of the Sretensky monastery, not for a conversation but in order to simply meet and hug him. The important questions and answers that you will learn about in this article were asked and received in written form in Donetsk a little earlier, but some horrible details were revealed to me during our latest meeting. Pay attention to how diligently I avoid using the word “last”, which is such a scary word.
This article is the fruit of several conversations and correspondence with someone whose biggest dreams are peace and returning to his native abode, where he hasn’t been since March 3rd, 2015.
Presentiment of War
In 2000 Father Feofan came to serve at the Iversky icon of the Mother of God chapel near Donetsk airport. The young priest went by minibus to the airport, and afterwards he had to reach the chapel on foot through numerous kitchen gardens. The pedestrian way took about 10 minutes. The winding footpath, high trees, and endless fields would be a common story if it wasn’t for one circumstance. Every time when Father Feofan walked across damp and peaceful land to the place of his service, strange and inexplicable for 2,000 years words and snippets of phrases started sounding in his head. “Today hardened fights continue at Donetsk airport”, “Motorola”, “defenders of Donetsk airport”. Then, 14 years later, Father Feofan heard all these words in real in reports, and the puzzle came together.
Did you attached any significance to these words in 2000? Did they disturb you or did you try to not think about it?
“Back then all of this sounded strange in the very least, but I shared it with the people around me, I verbatim told them what I heard. As a rule, people simply shrugged their shoulders, but recently I met one of the sextons of that time, today he is already an honoured archpriest. I asked him: ‘Do you remember, we served in Iversky, and you were a sexton?’ He answered by saying that of course he remembers, and he also remembered how I said back then that there will be a war, and spoke about defenders of Donetsk airport and Motorola … I was astounded: ‘You remember even this?’ He answered by saying that he remembers everything, only back then in 2000 he thought that I said something that didn’t relate to reality – neither the present nor the future one. But over the years my ‘prophecies’ of that time, if it is possible to call them that, became a reality.”
The well-known Starets, Father Zosima, mentioned a future war a lot. ‘Father Zosima said that in Kiev an infernal flame will start to burn,’ said Father Feofan, ‘and then this flame will roll like a fire wheel from the West to the East. And then American bombs, shells, and missiles will fall on Donetsk and then on Kiev too. All of this will still happen, as I understand. In principle, foreign shells have fallen on Donetsk not just once, but this is still ahead for Kiev. Father Zosima predicted many things. I compared many times and composed in my heart all of these moments”.
Gold of Donbass
In the 2010’s strange revelations happened with Father Feofan too: “Once I was walking down the street and saw a convoy, I don’t know who was in these cars, but for some reason back then I thought: ‘It will be interesting to know whose side there all these rich and cool people will be on. Who will they support?’ And afterwards I had a new thought: ‘What nonsense …’ Or some youth who behaved outrageously caused me to have such thoughts: ‘Now they behave outrageously, they don’t think about anything, but during the war whose side will they be on?’ And how many incredible examples do we know today where guys, representatives of the golden youth, left for the frontline and committed such feats that completely converted the outlook of those people who had condemned them during peace time”.
How many such guys perished on our land! It is impossible to count all those for who war suddenly became an opportunity to become real heroes and to overcome the pejorative definition “golden and spineless youth” in favor of high, but very frightening expressions such as “the gold of Donbass”.
“For many years the presentiment of war has remained with me. It is frightening that it became a reality,” remembers Father Feofan, “closer to actual war, when temptations started in Kiev, Maidan , etc, I said to the people around me that ahead of us lies a big civil war in which the West will support the abnormal part of Ukraine, but people also just shrugged their shoulders. But me, I started preparing myself, I perfectly understood that it will be necessary to somehow help our defenders. The only thing I hoped for is that our side will be taken back, that all of our region will be recaptured by our guys so that there is peace, but alas …”
Ukraine and the church
Father Feofan, why did a church split happen in Ukraine? Perhaps you have a certain explanation – not physical, but rather metaphysical.
“Before Maidan Ukraine lived very fatly, I am not a fan of Yanukovych, but it is a fact that we lived peacefully and self-sufficiently, we were repleted and safe, but we weren’t aware of our own wellbeing. We forgot to thank God for what he gave to us. Ukraine forgot to thank God. People wanted to live even better, even more satiated, more tasty, like with the old woman from the fairy tale. The church never climbed into politics, it tried to always keep good relations with politics and politicians, and it was like this for many years. Unfortunately, the personnel mistakes of the Metropolitan Vladimir, the predecessor of Metropolitan Onufry, now emerged sharply and cruelly.”
Since March 2014, when the first Ukrainian military equipment went along the roads of Donbass, Father Feofan started supplying [the DPR/LPR with – ed] photos and the routes they took to Donetsk. “I made the first photos of the Ukrainian equipment that arrived at our place near the cemetery of the village of Blagodatnoye, where later in May 2014 Right Sector shot UAF fighters. I made photos that showed even the number plates. BRDM, BMP, and service staff cars. The first column of equipment passed on March 15th, 2014. Back then in the DPR/LPR neither intelligence nor a fully-fledged army had been created, I didn’t know where I had to go concerning the information I had obtained. I simply called my acquaintances in Donetsk. It was important for me to report at least to someone that soon they will start to kill us. I warned, I wanted people to be ready to somehow stop the death that was going on upon us. Remember how people near Kramatorsk and Slavyansk stopped equipment with their bare hands. People came out and became a human chain in order to push them back. That’s the only reason I was transferring information. I wanted to prevent all of this!”
The burning date
The first terrible date of today’s war for Father Feofan remains May 2nd, 2014. “I still can’t fully comprehend what happened in Odessa! he said. “In the night from May 2nd to 3rd I couldn’t sleep, I collected videos from Odessa, I downloaded and kept them. They should be kept for ages so that it doesn’t repeat again! This was the most real hell on earth. I collected a big, conditionally speaking, collection of recordings that show what isn’t spoken about by anyone anywhere. The official version of events is that people were burnt, but in one video it is seen that a person with a chemical burn on their face is brought out from the building. Apparently, this person’s head was simply dunked into some container with concentrated acid inside. An absolutely scary face … On May 2nd even the most skeptical people understood that there is no way back, that there is nothing to say concerning these degenerates! Yes, I used exactly this word! They are degenerates”.
Father Feofan is sure that a Christian must be able to separate good from evil. Good should be good, and evil should be evil. Twisting words and substituting concepts is unthinkable. Degenerates, in the understanding of my interlocutor, are Banderists and those who followed propagandists and came to Donbass to kill peaceful people. “At first people in Odessa were killed,” said Father Feofan. “All of this was fantastically justified in Ukraine, they even made some so-called documentaries about people setting fire to themselves. And this strange rhetoric that there is nothing horrible about ‘vata’ and separatists being set on fire. The horrifying substitution of concepts started and continues. I couldn’t stand aside, and I thus helped our intelligence in every way. At the beginning of May 2014 a lot of [Ukrainian – ed] equipment started to arrive [in Donbass – ed], on May 9th the execution of people happened in Mariupol, and it became clear that it isn’t just a conflict, but the most real war”.
Over the course of a year Father Feofan actively helped DPR intelligence. Everything started with separate groups of anti-Maidan protesters, and by the time a hieromonk was captured in March 2015, the Donetsk People’s Republic had both its own fully-fledged intelligence and serious army. “I helped in whatever way I could, the only thing is that at the end, just before captivity, I had already stopped to report everything. I had no strength. I was simply tired. I didn’t report every time ‘Grad’ and ‘Uragan’ passed by, or when columns of equipment were on the move. When all of this moves day and night, when you already lost count and definitely can’t say how many ballistic missiles passed by. Sometimes my morale just dropped”.
On March 3rd 2015 they came for Father Feofan. He was arrested by employees of the SBU without the presentation of any documents, they simply pulled two guns out at the hieromonk and handcuffed him. On the same day they carried out searches: in his house and in the monastic cell. “It was not really a search,” shared my interlocutor, “the employees of the SBU simply took away my things that they liked, in fact they robbed me”. After being arrested Father Feofan was taken to the Mariupol SBU.
The first day of captivity was the most difficult and terrible one. Father Feofan was brought to the yard of the Mariupol SBU (77 Georgiyevskaya Street). Owing to a strange and terrible combination of circumstances, the secular name of Father Feofan is Georgy Kratirov. And Georgy was born in 1977. “From the yard I was immediately led to the basement. You enter, go straight on, and then take a left, and then down,” remembers Father Feofan, “and then again there is a long corridor on the left …” At first Father Feofan was put in a holding cell where many people sat, and it was very smokey. Packages and plastic bags lay on the shelves, all people were worrying a lot and waited to see who was next. Father Feofan didn’t have to wait for long, he was called by his surname. They opened the main door, then the bars, put him against a wall with his hands behind his back, handcuffed him, and put a bag on his head.
“I was brought to a shooting gallery,” said Father Feofan, “this is on the left and immediately to the right, literally two meters away. I went down two steps to the shooting gallery, I couldn’t see but I remembered. When entering this shooting gallery I was asked: ‘how is your health?’ I answered by saying that I have a painful heart”. After a Q&A Father Feofan was seated on a low bench, the kind found in Soviet sports halls from the past. As the detained hieromonk couldn’t see anything, he was led. “I heard that on my right somebody was sat near me on the bench,” remembers my interlocutor, “some time afterwards he was told to leave for the exit. I later became acquainted with this person, he saw me. They didn’t put a bag on his head, which is why he could recognise me later by my clothes in the temporary detention center”.
After the person who was on my right had departed, a man with a Western Ukrainian [West Ukraine – ed] accent sat down by Father Feofan, his voice wasn’t the voice of a brutal soldier, it was the ordinary voice of an ordinary person who had lived all his life in Western Ukraine. “The accent of my torturer was similar to the accent of one of my friends from Ternopol,” said Father Feofan. The man with an accent told the hieromonk in Russian that now other people will speak to him and he must tell them the truth and describe everything as it happened. After this the man with an accent switched to the Ukrainian language: “Otherwise they will speak to you in another language [the language of force – ed]! Do you understand? What in general is a Moskal church doing on Ukrainian land?”
Father Feofan answered his torturer: “The temple that I serve dates back to 1912. Where was Ukrainian land back then [rhetorical question – ed]?” It seemed to the hieromonk at this moment that his interlocutor retired to the background and immediately switched to Russian: “In our village there are two temples and there is a good competitive tradition. Temples compete among themselves, which temple vestments are better, and what temple is better decorated with embroidered towels!” The conversation between Father Feofan and the man with an accent ended on this.
After the man with an accent left, his place was taken by another person with a metallic voice. The first thing that the new interlocutor asked Father Feofan is whether or not he has taken drugs. The hieromonk said no. The man with a metallic voice ordered someone: “Bring the black, now we will inject!” This was a kind of psychological attack, of course, nobody brought anything. And afterwards hell started.
The torturers asked questions and beat Father Feofan anywhere and everywhere — with a plastic bludgeon to the knees, with a bat to the kidneys and feet, and zapped him with electricity.
The most horrible thing is that all of this happened in full darkness. The victim didn’t know where any new blows would come from and how strong it will be. Father Feofan was lucky that underneath the bag he was wearing a shapka, it protected his head a little bit. “It was grievous,” remembers the hieromonk, “they beat me non-stop for several hours, but it seemed that it wasn’t enough for them, they threw me to the floor, tore off the bag, put two benches on my torso, and large militants sat on them. They put a rag on my face and started to pour from a container on this rag, and they didn’t forget to hit my shins with a bat. This lasted for no less than one and a half hours. Or even more. I don’t know, time passed differently there”.
I am always ready for death
The torture that Father Feofan was subjected to by the SBU lasted for 3 days. At the end of the first day he was told that tomorrow he will have to write a testimony, but in the evening they again came for him – he was shivering and covered with wounds, and was taken away to a shooting gallery. “I couldn’t hold a pen, I held it not with my fingers, but in a fist, that’s why letters turned out squiggly,” remembers Father Feofan. In the shooting gallery where the hieromonk wrote his squiggly statement it was rather bright, bats were propped up against the walls, targets hung down, and Feofan sat at a tennis table and wrote out the ugly letters one after the other. This shooting gallery saw many people: executioners and martyrs. This shooting gallery knows the concept “live target” as a prisoner sat instead of a target and shots are fired around him for the purpose of intimidation. Sometimes a person was wounded.
The torturers didn’t understand the statement that Father Feofan wrote, neither in terms of its sense nor the handwriting. And the torture continued … The former clergyman of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed] speaks about the days he spent in SBU very calmly, either because he got over it or his status demands it. He doesn’t even describe, but simply narrates, without pathos, without pride, without exaggerations. Ordinary language, a calm tone, it is possible to talk about peace and joy like this, but not torture and grief. I, as a person whose day job involved holding a pen in my hand, listen with horror to his description and say: “They didn’t just deprive you of the ability to hold a pen by making your fingers seize up, they also deprived you of the possibility to cross yourself – after all, we cross ourselves with three fingers similar to how we write …” Father Feofan nods and replies: “Yes, it was indeed like that …” The hieromonk prayed during all three days of torture, he asked to give him the strength to not betray his own – it was precisely betrayal that he was afraid of committing! And when they zapped him with electricity, he repeated: “Forgive them, My Lord, they don’t know what they are doing…”
The captivity of Father Feofan lasted for more than a month, from March 3rd to April 8th, 2015. At first it was in the SBU in Mariupol, then he was transferred to a temporary detention center, then he was sent to a pre-trial detention center, and when the question of an exchange arose he was transported to Kharkov. On April 7th 2015, on the day of Annunciation, Father Feofan was taken away from Kharkov and taken to Izium, then to Kramatorsk, and he was exchanged near Mayorsk. “In Kharkov they treated me like I was a dog,” remembers the hieromonk, “I was immediately told that I exist, but apparently I don’t, because I wasn’t mentioned in any lists. Supervisors came at any time of the day and simply mocked, they gave 10 minutes for 15 people to take a shower, they periodically promised to hand us over for organs, as if they were joking. I was in a jail that is in the SBU in Kharkov on Mironositskaya [this translates as “Myrrhbearers” – ed] Street”. I asked again: “On Mironositskaya?” Father Feofan sadly smiles in response: “Yes, on Mironositskaya …” Mironositskaya Street is one of the central streets of Kharkov, it starts from Myrrh-Bearing Women Street.
The most important thought that was with Father Feofan during all the days of captivity is the thought of death. “I was always ready for death,” said the hieromonk, “during every second of my stay in various prisons I understood that this very second can become the last for my terrestrial way, but I wasn’t afraid! And I am afraid of nothing also now…”
“And are you ready now?” I asked.
“I am ready, but I wouldn’t want it to be for nothing. I want it to happen for the Motherland, for faith, because death for the Motherland and faith is a great honour – too great an honour for a person. If it will pleaseth God, I will only be glad.”
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