In Phuket Russians and Ukrainians come together for Orthodox Easter
Églises d'Asie publishes a story about the Orthodox parish in Thailand that welcomes Ukrainian war refugees and Russian tourists stranded by sanctions and cancelled flights. “We don’t discriminate,” the local priest said. People pray together, side by side, hoping for the conflict to end soon.
Phuket (AsiaNews) – How does an Orthodox community that includes both Russian and Ukrainians experience the fratricidal war in Ukraine on the other side of the world?
An article by Carol Isoux in Églises d’Asie, the news agency of the Missions étrangères de Paris (MEP), looks into it, describing a small but significant moment of peace on Orthodox Easter Sunday, a day otherwise saddened by the conflict.
The Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church is located on the northern side of the island of Phuket. Run by Archimandrite Oleg Cherepanin, it opened its doors to Ukrainian families affected by the conflict, as well as Russian tourists.
“We do not discriminate between our parishioners. In Phuket, Ukrainians and Russians are a large Orthodox community,” Fr Oleg said.
Several Ukrainian families from Kyiv and Kharkiv are staying in rooms and offices behind the church, their homes in Ukraine destroyed in the bombing.
“Without a flat, without work, with the war raging, we prefer not to go back for the moment," said a mother of two. "At least the children are safe here."
Nikita, a Russian tourist from Irkutsk, is in the next room. “My return ticket was suddenly cancelled overnight. The airline has not refunded my ticket and I don't have enough money to buy a new one. At first, I thought the embassy would help me, but they advised me to go to the church instead.”
European sanctions on several Russian banks, cut off from the international payment system, have made the situation even worse for some Russian tourists, unable to pay for their hotel rooms or basic necessities.
Nikita has been here for the past month, doing some chores around the church, such as electrical and garden work, and doesn't miss any of the daily religious services.
A Ukrainian priest, Fr Roman, from the Diocese of Kyiv, is a guest at the church until the situation improves. "I hope to be able to return to my parishioners as soon as possible, they need hope,” he said.
Sunday is the most important celebration. With about 50 people present, the two priests, Russian and Ukrainian, sang and celebrated together as the community tried to avoid discussing the war.
“It is too painful,” Fr Oleg noted. “There is no point in discussing it; there is a risk of dividing the community. As believers, we should help, not argue."
For Janna Sviritoka, who runs a real estate agency, “It is hard to understand how this is possible.” Speaking to Églises d’Asie, she explained that, “My assistant is Ukrainian, I have many Ukrainian friends here, we are like brothers and sisters. Many Russians have roots in Ukraine.”
Every week, Phuket’s Russian community sends money and non-perishable goods to Ukraine through parishioners’ personal contacts.
Fr Oleg Cherepanin founded the Orthodox Church in Thailand in 2007. Since then, it has opened five main churches in Bangkok, Phuket, Kho Phagnan and Pattaya, to meet the growing needs of the country’s large Russian community.
Within the Orthodox Church, the conflict in Ukraine has generated great tensions, but unlike their leaders, in Phuket, priests and parishioners want to stick together, hoping the war ends soon.