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Kharkiv hypermarket attack, Iryna and daughter Maria among the victims. Father Semenkov: “We are a Church at war”

The Greek Catholic Bishop Vasyl Tuchapets, Exarch of Kharkiv, announced in a statement that Iryna and her daughter Maria, 12, were among those killed in the Russian attack on the 'Epicentr' hypermarket on 25 May. Both were members of the parish of St Nicholas the Wonderworker Cathedral in Kharkiv. The authorities of the town have declared a day of public mourning for today, 27 May

(Foto AFP/SIR)

“Today is a very sad day.” In an interview with SIR, Father Grygoriy Semenkov, chancellor of the Latin Rite diocese of Kharkiv-Zaporizhzhya, describes the situation in the city of Kharkiv just two days after the Russian attack on an Epitsentr hypermarket. At least 11 people were killed and 50 wounded, three of them seriously or very seriously. But the toll is still provisional. The Ukrainian home improvement and DIY hypermarket was hit by two satellite-guided bombs. “More than 200 people” are believed to have been inside the shopping centre at the time of the explosion. Unfortunately, Iryna Myronenko and her daughter Maria, 12, parishioners and volunteers at the Cathedral of St Nicholas the Wonderworker in Kharkiv, were among the victims. Greek Catholic Bishop Vasyl Tuchapets, Exarch of Kharkiv, released the news of the deceased parishioners in a message issued by the Eparchy. He expressed his condolences to the bereaved. “The city has proclaimed a day of mourning for Monday 27 May,” the Exarch writes in his message. “We pray for the deceased and for all those affected by the terrorist attack perpetrated by the Russian Federation.”

The Facebook page of the Kharkiv Greek Catholic Exarchate remember Iryna as a woman “with deep faith in her heart, undeterred by difficulties. A woman who did good deeds effortlessly, wholeheartedly, naturally and willingly”. She was a member of the choir and attended the liturgy every day before going to work. “In addition to helping her large family, working and serving in the parish, she visited sick parishioners in hospitals, never missing an opportunity to lend a helping hand.” “We thank God for the gift of your life and for the example of humanity and feminine strength you gave us! See you in heaven,” reads one of the messages.

Images posted on Ukrainian social media showed the building with its roof torn off and a huge column of black smoke billowing out. An estimated 10,000 square metres of the building was in flames, according to local authorities. Fortunately, Father Semenkov said, the flames were extinguished and firefighters were able to bring the situation under control. While firefighters used water to extinguish the flames ignited by the attacks, they were able to enter the building to search for those still missing.

Before the war, the city of Kharkiv was home to a population of 1.5 million people. Situated near the Russian border in north-east Ukraine, it has been under sustained attack by Russian forces, which launched a ground offensive in the region on 10 May. Father Semenkov counts the kilometres conquered by the Russians, 10, 12 kilometres, but, he adds, “they will not make it to the city.” What is your message to the Italian people? “Please pray for peace – replies the priest – and also pray that we may have the strength to protect the city.” Father Semenkov’s thoughts turn especially to children, on the occasion of World Children’s Day, which was celebrated together with the Pope in Rome on Sunday 26 May, also to promote peace. “They may appear calm to you, but they are aware of everything and see the war unfolding before their very eyes. They never should have seen such things. Instead, they see the bombs falling and people’s homes being destroyed. And they are in pain. Those are wounds that will last a lifetime and need to be healed. Nevertheless, life goes on in the parish. From Monday to Friday, when circumstances allow, basic necessities are distributed to those in need. Another project is run with Norwegian support: every day, two cars travel to villages in the area, especially those affected by the conflict. They check the condition of the houses, see if people need help, and then return with what is needed: “It is a form of humanitarian monitoring of the region. We are a Church at war”.

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