Over the past weeks, the international media has been reporting about an escalating political situation in Ukraine, which is now close to a civil war. After a short period of cease-fire, the government has launched a massive military offensive on the insurgent-controlled parts of Eastern Ukraine, using heavy weaponry, aviation, and troops to subdue their resistance. Falling within the conflict-ravaged areas are such major, densely populated cities as Donetsk, Lugansk, Kramatorsk, and Slavyansk, where the civilian population, their residences damaged in the confrontation, flee for their lives, seeking refuge either in other parts of the country or across the border.
The military operation badly affected ISKCON communities in those cities as well. Luckily, there are no devotees among the many thousands that have been killed or injured in the conflict, but quite a few of them have had a very narrow escape.
“Devotees in the region report” describes ISKCON Ukraine’s Regional Secretary Acyuta Priya Das, “that sometimes it very difficult to tell who is bombing or who is firing, because it happens at night, or because military forces change their location all the time. In some places they use ‘grad’ weapon, which shoots 40 missiles at a time and cover a big territory.”
“In the war zone” Acyuta Priya adds, “the only law that exists right now is that of the weapon. The police is defunct, there is crime every way you look, and no justice being served.”
Previously, the military conflict mostly affected Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, from where most of the ISKCON devotees had left just in time relocating to other parts of Ukraine, Crimea or Russia.
Understanding the imminent danger, Bhaktin Juliya from Kramatorsk also left her home and went to Kiev, asking two devotee ladies if she could stay with them for a while. Two days after arriving in Kiev Juliya got a phone call from her neighbors in Kramatorsk, informing her that her house was hit by a high-explosive shell, and got demolished.
At the moment, the war between the Ukrainian army and the Russian-supported troops is going on in the outskirts of Donetsk and Lugansk. “We have big communities and hundreds of devotees in those cities,” Acyuta Priya continues. “The devotees in Lugansk had to pack the marble Gaura Nitai Deities and relocate them, leaving only one devotee in the temple, who, risking his life, is continuing to worship the small brass Gaura Nitai.”
“At least half of the ISKCON community in Lugansk had already left the city. From Donetsk about 40 % of the devotees had fled, but the rest of them stayed not wanting to leave their elderly parents and relatives behind. However,” Acyuta Priya warns, “if the military moves into the city centers, they will also have to leave, otherwise their lives will be in mortal danger.”
“There are areas that are already blocked by the military, from where it is very difficult to escape. There were many incidents, where devotees had to bribe soldiers to be allowed to get out of the dangerous areas.”
ISKCON Ukraine has established a team helping the devotee-refugees to relocate to safe places within Ukraine. They provide them with funds to be able to travel outside of hot spots, and help them with temporary accommodation and some maintenance. Single ladies with children get the first priority, as they are the most vulnerable ones, not being able to support themselves under these circumstances.
ISKCON Ukraine is requesting the worldwide ISKCON community to please pray for the welfare of the devotees affected by the military conflict, also to kindly offer donations to a fund that had been recently set up to support the Ukrainian devotees being in a perilous situation.
For updates on the situation in Ukraine, also to send your donations please follow this link:
Sep 25, 2022
Archbishop Eric Escala, Continuing Anglican Church
Sep 24, 2022
Sunanda Das, Temple of the Vedic Planetarium