LVIV, Ukraine — A Byzantine priest from Lviv, a native of Donetsk who became famous throughout Ukraine after being captured by separatists in 2014, announced the beginning of an exorcism ritual aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Ukrainian Catholic Father Tykhon Kulbaka wrote about his actions in a Feb. 25 post on Facebook, reported the Religious Information Service of Ukraine, based at the Catholic University of Lviv.
“I would like to inform you that I have decided to use my status as a priest of the united, holy, conciliar church, to whom I have the grace and privilege to be for 30 years. As of today, I am committed to performing the exorcism ritual daily aimed at Vladimir Putin. I believe that an evil spirit may inspire the actions of this man,” the priest wrote.
Exorcism aims to cast out demons or free them from demonic influence by the power of spiritual authority that Jesus gave to his church.
“I ask the merciful God either to free this person from demonic influence and make them renounce evil and stand up for good (or) destroy such a devil bodily so that the soul may be saved in the day of the Lord,” wrote the priest.
“I will be happy if one of the fellow priests joins me. Also, I would be delighted if some of the faithful supported us, the priests, in the way available to them (specific prayers are available to the laity with requests for deliverance from the evil spirit),” wrote Kulbaka.
On Feb. 21, Putin recognized the independence of the Ukrainian republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, setting up what many in the West saw as a pretext to invade Ukraine to defend those regions. In the early hours of Feb. 24, the Russian assault on Ukraine began.
Days after the Russian military met stiff resistance from Ukrainians and Western nations imposed severe economic sanctions, Putin said he would be willing to negotiate in Belarus. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Feb. 27 he was willing to negotiate, but not in Belarus, from which Russia staged some of its invasion. The same day, Putin put his nuclear forces on high alert.
RISU reported Kulbaka spent 12 days in captivity after he was captured July 4, 2014, when pro-Russian forces occupied Donetsk and Luhansk. Since then, thousands have been killed and maimed, and more than 1.5 million people have fled.
Kulbaka has recounted that, after the militants learned that the priest had diabetes, they gave him white bread and very little water, which is dangerous to people with diabetes. The priest had to drink water from the toilet tank.
Kulbaka said they took away his diabetes medicine and told him “‘You are our enemy! You’re going to die long and slow, unless you convert.” He said he would not renounce his belonging to the Ukrainian Catholic Church in order to join the church aligned with the Moscow Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church.
On the 12th day, the priest was taken to the field and left in his car. As it turned out, Mufti Said Izmagilov played an active role in the priest’s release. Kulbaka did not say anything about the captivity for three months, fearing for the safety of his parishioners. As soon as most of them left the occupied territory, he was able to tell about those events.
“Still I do not know where I was kept: There was a real silence and the smell of the forest. I had my eyes closed, which gave hope that I could stay alive. If they do not want you to see, there is a chance to be released,” RISU reported that Kulbaka recalled.
“I was pushed against the wall and told to pray. I began to pray in a loud voice. Automatic fire sounded above my head. I had never heard how an automatic gun sounds in the silence of the forest and so close to me. I fainted. The next time I was taken somewhere I knew they would repeat this ritual, but every time I was wondering whether it would be above my head or already in my head.”
“When I asked them what my fault was, one of them said: “You prayed for Ukraine! Imagine in 1942 anyone praying for the victory of Stalin in central Berlin. Hitler would kill them on the spot.”
From the beginning of the conflict in Donbas, Kulbaka was one of the organizers of the Prayer Maidan in Donetsk, RISU reported. It began as an ecumenical event, then became interreligious when Muslims and Buddhists joined them.
“Our Prayer Maidan was the last place where one could see Ukrainian symbols,” said Kulbaka.
There were many attempts to disperse the Prayer Maidan in Donetsk.
“Once we were surrounded by armed men, and a Protestant pastor fell to his knees. A woman with a gun started screaming, ‘Stop him, and don’t let him pray. I cannot stand it.’ I am truly convinced that above all these people are possessed by the power of an evil spirit,” Kulbaka said.