Ukraine war victims put at heart of Remembrance Sunday service

By Cameron Brooks

The victims of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war were put at the heart of an “emotional” Remembrance Sunday service organised by the Church of Scotland.

The congregation at Sherbrooke Mosspark Parish Church in Glasgow were joined by more than 40 displaced Ukrainian people to pay their respects to all those who have died in past, recent and ongoing armed conflicts.

They are currently staying on the MS Ambition cruise ship at the River Clyde’s King George V docks and the church arranged for a coach to pick them up.

Among the poppy wreaths on display in the packed-out sanctuary was the Ukrainian flag and a displaced Ukrainian national called Lyolya Filimonova delivered a heartfelt and hard-hitting address.

She described the Remembrance Sunday service as “very touching, positive and emotional” and thanked the congregation for the love and support that they have shown people who have fled to Glasgow since Russia launched an unprovoked attack on her homeland in February this year.

Some church members are hosting displaced families and social events and English language classes are regularly held in the building to help people settle in.

Ms Filimonova read the iconic poem “In Flanders Fields” written by Major John McCrae in 1915, a year after the First World War broke out.

Linking the iconic words to the ongoing war in Ukraine, she said the prose is as “symbolic and relevant” today as it ever was.

Ms Filimonova said: “Today, Ukrainians, together with the whole civilized world, are fighting for the freedom of Europe.

“Unfortunately, this freedom is given to us at the cost of the lives of defenders.

“We also remember thousands of innocently killed civilians.

“Victims of mass rocket attacks, which have not stopped for more than eight months in Ukraine, as well as those who were tortured in camps, killed in cold blood.

“The war came very close to our families and almost all of us have relatives, friends, acquaintances who have died in this war.”

Ms Filimonova of Kyiv, who worked as a tour guide in Ukraine for 15 years, said five of her close friends have been killed.

“Today, when the soldiers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces liberate Ukrainian cities, we find hundreds of mass graves with the bodies of soldiers and civilians who were killed, tortured and raped,” she added.

“The price of liberating cities is very high, it is the price of human life and we pray for our soldiers to be protected by God.”

Ms Filimonova, pictured above,  and her husband Vasyl Severynenko, 42, flew to Cyprus on holiday on the 23rd of February – the day before Russia launched its full-scale attack on their country.

They stayed there for seven months, supporting fellow Ukrainians who also fled to the island and spoke out against Russian propaganda being spread about the war before travelling to Britain under the sponsorship scheme.

The couple’s extended family, including their 12-year-old cat, are still in Ukraine and facing an uncertain future.

Mr Severynenko is working five days a week for a Ukrainian telecommunications company and sending money home to support loved ones.

He and his wife are staying on the cruise ship along with more than 1,000 people – their 11th home in eight months.

Addressing the congregation, Ms Filimonova said: “On November 11, Kherson was liberated and this is a moment of incredible happiness for all Ukrainians.

“But the fate of many relatives and friends is still unknown.

“I am waiting for a call from my friend, a colleague who I have not been in touch with since November 6.

“All of us pray for the health of our relatives and await news from them.

“We pray for the more than 150 dead citizens of Kherson, unarmed territorial defence warriors who gave their lives defending the city in the first days of the occupation. We pray for all the murdered children and unborn babies.

“Thousands of children have been deported, thousands of people have been kidnapped, their fates are unknown and thousands of Ukrainians are in captivity.

“Every day we pray for them to be alive, for God to give them strength to survive all sufferings and for them to return home to liberated Ukraine as soon as possible.”

Ms Filimonova thanked the UK Government for the assistance they have given to the Ukrainian military and the congregation for their love and support.

“Our great thanks to you, dear community, you give us warmth of your hearts that helps us get through hard times, pain and anxiety,” she added.

“We thank each member of the community for the care you show us, for your support, for extending a helping hand to families from Ukraine, mothers and children.

“These children are the future of our country, those who will preserve our culture and the memory of the exploits of our heroes.”

The Rev Adam Dillon, pictured above, minister of Sherbrooke Mosspark Parish Church, said the Ukrainian people in attendance were particularly moved by the words from the call to worship and benediction.

“Remembrance Sunday is the day we remember all those living and dead who served in the armed forces and those who lost their lives,” he added.

“It is a day when we shine the light both on human courage and self-offering which have brought protection and peace and also shine a light on the terrible, terrible cost of war and the grief and loss it brings.

“This spirit of memory is also a recognition of the meaning of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of peace for which we long, where every tear is wiped away and death will be no more and mourning and crying will be no more.”

Earlier this year, Clare Williams, session clerk at Sherbrooke Mosspark Parish Church, and her husband Nigel decided to take in Yuliia and her 12-year-old son Artem who are from Kyiv.

Mr Dillon said: “At the heart of this congregation is hospitality, and when our session clerk and her family welcomed a mum and son from Ukraine into their home during the summer, we decided to offer a welcome afternoon for Ukrainians.

“We expected half a dozen, and nearly thirty folks turned up that first day.

“We now meet fortnightly, and we have been able to reach out and offer a hospitable welcome in Jesus name.

“As the project has grown into a number of different ventures, we too have grown and learned so much more from our Ukrainian partners and friends.”

Church of Scotland congregations and individuals have now raised £418,000 to help support the Ukrainian Church and those in surrounding countries to help people seeking refuge from the war.

The Church has a long history of receiving and supporting refugees and leads the multi-faith partnership, Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees.

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