CNNIn tense, defiant Ukraine border region, prayers are for peace -- unless peace fails
By Karl Penhaul, CNN
updated 6:42 AM EDT, Mon March 31, 2014Holmy, near Ukraine-Russian border (CNN)
-- A low hum rises high into the onion-shaped dome of a village church.
The priest, shrouded in a gold cape, peers through steel-gray eyes at the small flock standing before him, intoning ancient religious chants.
A few miles of forest, swampland and rolling potato fields is all that stands between this community of 2,500 people and Ukraine's eastern border with Russia.
In the congregation, tears stream down one lady's face. Hard to tell whether she's moved by the power of prayer or whether she's just plain terrified of the prospect Russian troops could invade.
Before he took his vows, Father Mikhail Zorivchak -- an engineer by profession -- was an officer in the Soviet army. He came back to this region after the fall of the Berlin Wall but found no other work except rebuilding churches, including the one in this village.
He cannot believe his old comrades will roll into Ukraine, even less that rank-and-file Russian soldiers would heed orders to open fire on their Ukrainian neighbors.
But if they do, Zorivchak is preaching to the faithful that there can be no question of turning the other cheek.
"I will preach to our people to defend our homeland from any invader. This is the land of our grandfathers. I'll pray for our army. And if they need me I'm ready to join them to protect our holy land," he told CNN.'Truth is where God is'
Zorivchak knows firsthand the might of the Russian military. He served the Soviets at a base in East Germany between 1986 and 1988 building storage facilities for T-80 tanks.
But in his new life as a priest, he believes he and the rest of village have two key tactical advantages against advancing Russian armor.
"We know how to fight a partisan (guerrilla) war. We know these forests and swamps like the back of our hand and it will be very hard to fight us," he said.
"Truth will win. Truth is where God is and God is on our side," he added.
Luba Kostroma, who during the week works in the village store, is trying to keep her nerve, hoping and praying for the best.
"Of course I'm praying for peace. But I think the Russians will come in," she said.
She was at Sunday Mass with her 3-year-old grandson Olexi and her son Igor. Igor Kostroma was a soldier in the Ukrainian army and later served in the police force. He's an army reservist, and if war did break out he would almost certainly be dispatched to the front line.
That thought terrifies his mother.
"Every mother worries when her son is mobilized. We understand our young men have to protect the homeland. But it's painful to think that our sons must go to war in the 21st century," Kostroma said, her voice rising in a mix of fear and defiance.
Ukrainian military buildup on the border
This talk of facing down a far more powerful enemy may not be mere bluster. The young men of Holmy know they have the lessons of history to live up to.
This border region was the scene of a bitter guerrilla campaign during World War II.
Ukrainian villagers -- known as "partisans" -- fought in small, lightly armed and highly mobile squads against the Germans. In that era, Russian soldiers were their allies.
In another village near Holmy, a concrete, wartime monument still stands, emblazoned with a red star and the logo of the USSR. On one side the names of dozens of Soviet troops who died in combat. On the other side, the names of even more Ukrainian partisans who fell.
The locals clearly take pride in that legacy.
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