TEARS were shed at an emotional Ukrainian Christmas celebration staged by families in a packed remote hill-top church in West Devon.
The children of parents fleeing the Russian invasion in their homeland played a key role in the colourful nativity and carol service at St Michael de Rupe on top of Brent Tor, near Mary Tavy, on Saturday (January 7).
The service was held there because St Michael is the patron saint of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. Ukrainians, hosted by householders in the area, had already attended a Michaelmas service last year and accepted the offer to hold their Orthodox service in the small church on their normal Christmas Day.
Tania Kovalchuk, a mother and scientist, has lived in Tavistock since before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and was one of the organisers.
She said: ‘This was a lovely service and I must thank every one who helped make it happen. It meant so much to us who cannot go back to our own country. It was like being back home and brought back lots of memories, more sad recent ones of people we have lost, but cannot properly commemorate.
‘I’m not a refugee, but I can’t go to my other home country because of the war. Everyone here in the area has been so welcoming as hosts and generally, but coming together in a church, both English and Ukrainian, made me feel connected. It reinforced the whole family feeling.’
The Rev Dr Hazel Butland, who led the service, said: ‘It was a wonderful and very special occasion for us and our church, but especially for our Ukrainian friends, of course, because of what’s going on in their own country and as they’ve left so many people behind. Several people shed tears, which shows how much it meant to them.’
‘This also means a lot to our two church communities, bringing the Anglican and Orthodox congregations together, which is really meaningful and extra special. After the service the sun came out and a rainbow appeared, it was as if God gave his blessing to us.’
The event attracted nearly 100 people in the tiny church and required them to all trek up a steep muddy and rocky path to reach the granite building. The church team had to carry a music keyboard and other equipment up the hill, while the congregation also carried up 12 traditional Ukrainian festive dishes they had made (representing 12 months) for sharing after a carol service and a nativity play enacted by young children.
She added: ‘We realised St Michael’s was attracting a lot of Ukrainian visitors, so we held a special service at Michelmas (the feast day of St Michael) in September and offered this service.’