Voices from the Communion: Bishop Pavlo Shvarts of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine
(LWI) - LWI met Bishop Shvarts in the last week of January 2023, in Kharkiv. The interview took place in one of the heating points which LWF and GELCU support – a school gym, where people can warm up, charge their phones and sometimes receive warm food. On this day however, the place was empty. It was a fairly warm and sunny day in Kharkiv, and for the time being, there was even electricity.
How is the situation in Kharkiv?
Bishop Pavlo Shvarts: Apart from the missile strikes on critical infrastructure, the situation in the city has been relatively stable during the last few months. About one million people live in Kharkiv, and most things in the city function. The only exception is the northern part which suffered greatly from the war with the Russian Federation, from missile attacks and other weapons.
How do the people feel, after one year of war and aggression?
The situation in Kharkiv is exceptional because many people have family on the other side of the border, for example, in Belgorod. That creates a difficult emotional situation because Kharkiv and the Kharkiv region are regularly shelled from Belgorod. Therefore the invasion of one state into another also creates tensions in families. Part of a family is there; the other part is here. Some families no longer speak to each other. These family breaks are quite a severe problem and will take decades to resolve.
I noticed that life is continuing here and people are returning to Kharkiv. What do you think gives them strength?
People return to the city for various reasons. Partly they return because if they have not lost their homes, there is an opportunity to live and work here. The second reason is the desire to return to their native city and, in some sense, to return to that time before the war.
I hear very different stories of how people are finding strength for themselves. Of course, if we are talking about religious people, it will be faith and connection to a congregation. But everyone is trying to find their way. It is not always possible, unfortunately. That is why quite a lot of people are experiencing depression. It is difficult to process all that is happening emotionally.