Blog No 6. Peace for Ukraine

Monastery at Sviatohirsk-Donbas

The wooden church in the Sviatohirsk Monastery in the Donbas area.

This week is refugee week so I would like to share a story about my heritage. Anyone could be a refugee. We need to express our humanity.

This image above is of the Refugee evacuation during the Second World War created for my Exhibition called “The Leaving of Ukraine through Bloodlands”. History is repeating itself in the Donbas area of Ukraine now in 2022.

When I heard of the destruction by fire of the beautiful intricate wooden church which stood magnificently in the Monastery in Sviatorhirsk I was shocked and devastated

How could this be happening?!

Sviatohirsk standing on the most magnificent setting with the Siversky-Donetsk river in view.

The wooden church is nestled within its grounds!

We had travelled to the Monastery on route to Luhansk from Kharkiv in 2013 to trace my husbands relatives that he had not met before. It was a much anticipated trip.

Unknown to us at that time this area became “Infamous” by the tragic downing of MH17. The highway that runs past this area is where the bodies of Australians and other nationalities were retreived and taken to Kharkiv for repatriation to their countries of origin.

Back in 2013 we were in an oblivious happy time marvelling and discovering all we could about the location and place of this Monastery.


We found ourselves in the Monastery grounds on a beautiful sunny day. It was a weekend so there were many Ukrainians as well as international tourists milling around.

We were asked beforehand to please wear appropriate clothing. For women dresses rather than jeans and for men “no shorts”. Head coverings were suggested.

This Monastery is of the Orthodox faith. As a child I had been brought up in a Ukrainian Orthodox household, so it felt very familiar and a feeling of belonging surprised me. I class myself in my adult life as an observer of religious faiths rather than a participator, but I am respectful of following the rules if I choose to be a voyeur.

So we paid our dues and joined the queue.

Inside the grounds of Sviatohirsk Monastery.

We learnt the Monastery had its fair share of history. Earliest mentions go to the surrounds being called Holy mountains in the 16th century. later in the 17th century it existed as a Lavra with hundreds of monks using it as a spiritual place. It had been destroyed during the rise of the bolshevik revolution in 1917 when it was heavily looted. It was closed in 1922.

In 1991 when Ukraine got its independence from the Break up of the Soviet Union the Monastery became a place of reflection and housed over 100 monks.

So on that beautiful sunny day as we wandered through the monastery grounds we came across that wooden church.

There were no people around as most were exploring the Lavra-underground caves.

A solitary monk greeted us and let us into the church grounds. We asked if we could look inside. He said he would get his novice Monk to show us around.

Entering the church 2013

The Novice opened the church and we found ourselves in a humble little sanctuary. I asked him why he had chosen such a life! He was only 26 and he told us he had not known his father and found following God maybe a way of healing. We exchanged aspects of our own lives and when we told him we were from Australia, he genuinely seemed moved and said, “God has sent you!”

The humble altar
Icon in Wooden church 2013

I wonder what the reality for the monks and their beautiful place is now?! I wonder if some of them have become refugees!

Look out for my next Blog – No 7 “Close call for Grandma in air – raid shelter”!

Blog – No. 7

Close call for Grandma in air-raid shelter

Since February 2022, Ukraine has been fighting an unfair war with Vladimir Putin. Russians who support him in principle, one can say are misguided and just hang on to a life they know. At least Ukraine is not bombing them!! Many who are more fortunate and see the writing on the wall, have either escaped to nearby countries or have gone abroard.

During the Second World War, my Grandfather who was Ukrainian saw the writing on the wall, and knew that if he stayed in Ukraine, no matter who won the war, he and his family would be persecuted by Stalin’s mob. His life did not represent freedom or education for his family.

My Grandfathers land – still stands in Eastern Ukraine

He travelled to Germany in a refugee convoy, pre-empting the German defeat. The family spent the last two years of the war in Germany in refugee camps, trying to stay alive!!

My mother told many stories of that unsettling and worrying time. She told of how as a young mother every time an air raid siren would sound, she would grab her new-born son (my brother) and run to the underground for safety. She would take his cloth damp nappies with her as she would not know how long she would have to stay there. Sometimes she would press the nappies to the inside of her clothes to try to dry them for her baby. All the while the bombs dropped from above during this time in Germany were being delivered by the British and the Americans. You might ask – where is the justice in War?!!

Meanwhile my Grandmother Olena, would never go into the bomb shelters. She claimed the bombs never hit directly and her heavy, slow legs had been through so much – she had stopped caring!! If I die from whoever so be it!!

On one very auspicious day, she was commandeered by everyone to do as she was told. Hagen is going to be severely bombed, who must get into the underground. If you don’t you will never see your grandson again.

Reluctantly she fled down to the Bunker with everyone. The bombing attack was so severe that a man refugee at the door lost his life with the blast. Grandma had a narrow escape.

Later in life whenever her post traumatic life got to her, she often used to say-I should not have been saved!!

Today, one year ago Ukraine was attacked by Putin’s illegal war

May people in the world never experience war! The scars will not heal easily.