“We went there for two or three months, that is, on rotation. There were three rotations, four rotations per year. So, it all depended on the necessity, because we had this kind of rotation. One priest would go, serve for two or three months, and then another priest would go. Again, for two or three months, and then another one. We went to one brigade, then to another. Because in Odesa we have quite a few brigades, many brigades and many units. So, we had to travel. Sometimes, from one brigade, you would end up in a completely different one. You'd arrive home for a day or two — and then you were off again. So, we had such moments. They were quite frequent.”
“Did you witness any terrifying events at the frontline?”
“Yes, of course. Like when we had to extract our soldier, a mechanic, from the armored personnel carrier (BTR), half of his head blown off. You retrieve the body — the heart is still beating, blood is pulsing, and you know that the person is already dead. By the time you get him to the hospital, he dies in your arms. It's very difficult, overly difficult. And then you have to give that body to a child, a family, to the relatives.”
“On the 25th of February 2022 in the morning, a captain of the Armed Forces of Ukraine called me, I won't mention his last name as he's still in service, continuing to protect and defend Ukraine. He called and asked whom to send to Zmiinyi Island to retrieve the bodies of the 13 fallen ones, at that moment there were 13 of our border guards who had been killed. And two civilians from Zmiinyi Island needed to be evacuated. I said, ‘Whom to send? I’m going.’ That is, I will go. On the 25th at 11 o'clock, myself and two other chaplains, one chaplain — Oleksandr Chokov from the 35th Brigade, and Leonid Bolharov — a volunteer, also a chaplain, and a doctor — Ivan Tarasenko, a pediatrician from the children's hospital... we were already on board of the Sapfir ship. And at eleven o'clock — around half past eleven, we set off towards Zmiinyi Island. On the way, we saw a ship that had been sunk by Russians and was on fire. The captain approached this sunken ship, he went around it, made sure that there were no longer people on board, there were no sailors, no one to save. We went to the side for refueling, refueled and set off towards Zmiinyi Island. And in the morning, around six or seven o'clock, we received the order, most likely from the cruiser Moskva, to drop anchor and wait for the inspection team. And we waited for about three hours for this inspection team to come up. When their Moscow special forces climbed on board, they took all of us onto the deck, made us kneel with our hands behind our heads, and for about four hours, they conducted a search of the ship. And when they finished searching the ship, they put us under guard in the cabins. And we could say that from that moment on, we were in captivity”.
“It was difficult, it was terrifying. But there was hope in God. And I'll tell you something else, when I saw our soldiers, especially there was this boy from our 35th Brigade, a young lad... a boy, a young man. Around twenty-two, maybe twenty-four years old. And when I looked at him, there was no fear in his eyes, he wasn't afraid of the special forces guard that was watching over us. We were under threat, because their special forces soldier stood by the tent entrance, his gun's safety was off, he was in combat mode, ready to shoot us at any moment. And this child had no fear in his eyes. When I looked at him, I didn't even have the right to show this soldier that I was afraid. But it was terrifying to the core, so much so that our knees were shaking. And we stood together, and I would say... we even came up with a command — ‘stand for prayer’. And we stood for prayer in the morning, at noon, and in the evening, we stood for prayer. We recited the Lord's Prayer, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven…’ We prayed for Ukraine even there. Let me tell you this: if we were praying for Ukraine there, and they forced us to speak in Russian, to pray in Russian. But we stood there and prayed in Ukrainian. So, if we stood there and prayed in Ukrainian, then this nation is unconquerable. They shouted at us, ‘Your god is not here.’ And we said, ‘He is here, God is with us.’ And God brought us out from there.”
“And when the moment came when they were interrogating me, they threw me into such a cell they called the rubber room. It's a room in the basement, two and a half by four meters, lined with rubber, a very coarse rubber. There's no ventilation, no toilet, no water faucet. They strip you completely naked and throw you in there. So, for about four days, without food, without water, without sleep, because it's cold, the basement temperature is about eight or nine degrees Celsius. It was very cold. And so, for about four days practically without food, without water... And there, someone had been there before you, someone had already used the floor as a toilet. And these fumes from the urine, the ammonia, start eating away at your trachea. And after about six or seven hours, you start coughing up phlegm. And when it's been about four days, you start experiencing hallucinations, because you're without sleep and your eyes keep closing. You're on your knees because standing is impossible, your heels feel like they're being beaten. And you're on your knees, trying to warm yourself with your own breath. You start falling, because you're blacking out, you fall to the ground, it's cold — you wake up immediately and you're back on your feet. And so, hour after hour, for four days. And after that, they take you out for interrogations again. Then they beat you there, shock you, put nails under your nails, and then they throw you back into that rubber room. There was a moment when I had already said goodbye to this life, I thought I wouldn't make it out of there. But God had a slightly different plan for me.”
“For about a month, I was in solitary confinement. In that rubber room, then in the punishment cell, and then in a regular solitary cell. And then — the exchange."
“When did it happen?”
“On May 6th. On May 5th the command came, ‘Get your belongings for departure!’ They dressed me in my clothes, but they didn't allow me to wear a cassock. They took my cross. And they loaded me back into the special vehicle for detainees, brought me to the airfield. I don't know where they were taking us because they put a hat over my head and taped it shut. They brought us to the airfield, loaded us onto an airplane. To be honest, I thought they were taking us to Crimea for that parade they wanted to hold in Mariupol on May 9th. I thought they were taking us to that parade of shame, as they called it. But on May 6th, around 7 or 8 in the morning, they loaded us onto trucks, and we started moving. One of our military personnel saw where we were located territorially through a hole in the tarpaulin. He said, ‘I know this area. It’s Ukraine. We're no longer in Crimea. Most likely, they're taking us for an exchange.’ And then we understood that we were being taken for an exchange. And when we arrived at one of the villages, I don't remember the name of the village... There was a river that divided the village in half, and the bridge over the river was destroyed, torn down. And they exchanged us in such a way that it was ten people from our side, ten from their side. We carried our serviceman, he had lost a leg. He was wounded. He had no leg, we carried him on a stretcher, four of us carried him across the river. There were rocks scattered around. We carried him to our car, to our guys. I saw our servicemen, military medics. I saw the blue-and-yellow flag. And our medic said, ‘Guys, you did great. Glory to Ukraine!’ And I couldn't even respond because there was a lump in my throat. Definitely — glory to Ukraine!”
Vasyl Demyanovych Vyrozub was born on May 25, 1970, in the city of Borshchiv, Ternopil region. He was raised with Christian ethics; his grandmother and grandfather would take him to church by the hand, even when the Soviet state forbade it. In 1990, following the example of his cousin, Vasyl Vyrozub decided to dedicate his life to God and entered a seminary. In 1992, the sacrament of his ordination as a clergyman took place in Terebovlia. Father Vasyl became a priest in the village of Krovynka, Ternopil region, where he served for about 13 years. In 2002, fate led him to Odesa, where he began to serve at the Garrison Holy Trinity Church. During the Revolution of Dignity, he stood on the Maidan alongside the Ukrainian people. Later, he volunteered in the Anti-Terrorist Operation zone and was present at the inception of chaplaincy within the Armed Forces of Ukraine. After the full-scale invasion of Russian forces into Ukraine on February 25, 2022, Father Vasyl, along with other chaplains, set out to evacuate the bodies of fallen Ukrainian soldiers as part of a search and rescue group on the Sapfir rescue vessel. He was captured and endured 70 days in Russian captivity. After an exchange on May 6, 2022, he returned home and continued his service at the Garrison Holy Trinity Church in Odesa.