In February 1946 through the efforts of the Soviet government, the Greek Rite Catholic (Uniate) Church was officially liquidated in the western part of the Ukraine. First all Uniate bishops were arrested, along with the Lvov Metropolitan, Josep Slipi. A church meeting was called, contrary to canon law, but not a single Uniate Church bishop attended. Only several priests who had sold out to the government and so-called lay representatives of the faithful chosen by the government were present. That meeting (sobor) decided to join the Greek Rite Catholic Church to the Russian Orthodox Church. Soviet sources depict this action as a decision accepted by the community of the faithful and insolently insist that there no longer remain any believers loyal to the union with the Roman Catholic Church.
That this is a blatant lie was evidenced by events which followed the solemn commemoration by the Russian Orthodox Church of the thirty-fifth anniversary of this "joining."
Although following the "joining" all Uniate parishes which did not agree to "join" the Russian Orthodox Church officially lost their registration and their churches were considered closed, until recently there still remained in the western part of the Ukraine many officially unregistered churches whose keys were held by the faithful, who assembled there for common prayer during major feasts. Uniate priests who worked secretly in such churches refrained from holding services to avoid giving a reason for closing the churches permanently. Services were usually held in private homes, and afterward the faithful would continue their prayers in the old churches. Throughout those thirty-five years, the faithful of such parishes constantly collected signatures to petitions and took them to the Religious Affairs Commissioner's offices in Lvov, Kiev, and Moscow asking that their communities be registered, but they were unsuccessful, and the situation remained unchanged.
This spring, after the shameful thirty-fifth "anniversary" and the Twenty-fourth Party Congress, the situation began to change, but not for the better. This is shown by the following facts:
The Uniate believers of the town of Zavadov in Strijsk Rayon have regularly written appeals to government agencies for the past twenty-three years asking that their community and church be registered. The appeals were signed by two to three hundred persons. In March 1981 representatives of the Zavadov believers took such an appeal to the Religious Affairs Commissioner in Moscow. They were received by Tarasov, a functionary of the agency, who was very pleasant, patted them on their backs, and gave them grounds for some hope, "All right, all right, you have the right to have your church." The results of these pleasant words appeared only upon their return, however. The "kind" Tarasov had telephoned the workplaces of the believers' representatives ordering them to take measures . . . Although all the representatives had officially received vacation leave for the journey, harassment started when they returned. They were discussed at meetings and transferred to inferior positions.
Several incidents took place on March 22:
1. Government and police employees of Strijsk Rayon removed liturgical articles from the Zavadov church, nailed the door shut, and posted a plaque proclaiming that this was no longer a church but a museum.
2. The same fate befell the Gaj Verchnij church in Drogobych Rayon.
3. Two young, recently ordained Uniate priests, Roman Esip and Vasil Kavacev, who ministered secretly to the faithful were arrested in Lvov.
The closing of the Zavadov and the Gaj Verchnij churches was merely a prologue to a wave of repressions.
On April 26 the Greek Rite Catholics celebrated Easter. The wave of government repressions crashed on the eve of Easter: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Rayon government and police representatives stormed the churches that had not yet been completely closed attacking the believers who had assembled in them. In Sambor Rayon, the churches of Podgaičiki, Susolovi, and Chlopčiki were thus attacked.
In Podgaičiki, the church was besieged twice. The first time the church was filled with believers, and the attackers withdrew until some of the people had left and then launched their second attack in the evening. That time, they succeeded. They took the religious pictures out of the church, hung the portraits they had brought with them, locked the church, and announced that from now on it was a museum. People who attempted to retrieve the discarded holy pictures were pursued by the police. Among them was a young man recently discharged from the military who resisted the police and was sentenced to fifteen days in prison.
At the Susolovi church the assailants also found many people present. Therefore, they withdrew after threatening that this meeting of believers was illegal and that the church would be confiscated. They did not dare attack a second time because the people kept vigil in the church.
At the Chlopčiki church, they found the church trustee, arrested him, confiscated the church key, brought posters to the church, locked it, and took the key with them.
The Dolgoluki church in Strijsk Rayon was attacked on Easter morning. Believers had assembled for prayer during the night and had locked the doors. Government and police representatives arrived in ten vehicles (the inhabitants of Dolgoluki complain that when the need arises they have difficulty obtaining a vehicle) and broke down the church doors. Fighting broke out. The church was closed.
In Gorodoki Rayon the churches of Tučapi, Ritiatiči, Mšana, and Drosdoviči were stormed on the eve of Easter.
Large numbers of people used to assemble for prayers in the Tučapi church during every religious feast. Government spies would follow the most active believers and summon them to rayon headquarters and impose fines. On the eve of Easter, some thirty policemen stormed the Tučapi church and closed it. For active participation in illegal services, Dorosh, a World War II invalid, was given a 50-ruble fine. His pension is very small, and the fine is therefore a great hardship for him.
The key to the Mšana church had been confiscated earlier, therefore the people assembled in the cemetery next to the church on the eve of Easter. The police surrounded the cemetery, shot rockets into the air, and assaulted the fifteen believers present in the cemetery, among them an elderly man.
The Drosdoviči church was attacked in the morning while all the people were at work. Government representatives broke down the church doors, smashed everything inside, and then nailed the church doors shut.
In Yavorovsk Rayon the Kamennyj Brod and Muželoviči churches were attacked.
In Kamennyj Brod, the intruders found the church full of people and withdrew after threatening that the church would be closed. Later, they attacked the homestead of an active Uniate woman. Failing to find her at home, they conducted a search and injured her adopted daughter.
The intruders brought a Russian Orthodox clergyman to the Muželoviči Uniate church and urged the faithful to accept him. If they would not accept him, the church would be confiscated, but the faithful rejected the Russian Orthodox priest. They did not dare close the church because of the great number of believers present.
In Peremyshlyany Rayon the churches of Volkov and Mereščov were attacked.
The faithful of Volkov assembled in the church on Good Friday to venerate Christ's grave. Fearing provocation, they locked the doors. The attackers broke down the sacristy doors, terrorized the faithful present, and searched the church. They were looking for a hidden, unregistered, priest.
In Mereščov the intruders broke into the church and tried to intimidate the assembled believers. A collective farm work brigade leader was among the believers present. He was dismissed for attending illegal services.
The police were also present at officially recognized Russian Orthodox churches on the eve of Easter but limited themselves to merely verifying that children were not brought to the services. During major feasts, young men wearing red armbands usually patrol outside Orthodox churches and prevent children being taken to the services. At times too they detain young people, boasting that they want to "protect" the services from "hooligans."
During the same period, unofficially working Uniate priests known to the government were summoned to security police agencies and threatened with arrest if any of them attempted to hold Easter services.
In Lvov Father Gegelsk's home was searched and religious articles and his savings were confiscated.
In Ritiatiči (Gorodok Rayon) Father Griniak was assaulted on his way to administer the last rites to a patient. Afterwards Father Griniak was investigated at the factory where he works in Lvov.
The home of Father Grynčišin was searched in Drogobych. Religious articles, money, and even children's ornaments were confiscated.
A campaign of intimidation was conducted in offices before Easter to keep people from attending Easter services.
Fellow Lithuanian, Do Not Forget!
Petras Plumpa, Antanas Terleckas, [Miss] Ona Vitkauskaitė, Sergei Kovalev, Julius Sasnauskas, [Miss] Gene Navickaitė, Balys Gajauskas, Anastazas Janulis, [Miss] Jadvyga Stanelytė, Viktoras Petkus, Vytautas Skuodis, Vytautas Vaičiūnas, Petras Paulaitis, Povilas Pečeliūnas, Mečislovas Jurevičius, Algirdas Statkevičius, Gintautas Iešmantas and others are enduring the yoke of bondage in order that you may live and believe in freedom.