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Ukraine: Zelensky thanks Holy See for its help in the release of two priests

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, express gratitude to the Pope and Vatican diplomacy for their “invaluable contribution” in the release of ten Ukrainian prisoners by Russian forces, including two members of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, Fathers Ivan Levytskyi and Bohdan Heleta.

By Amedeo Lomonaco

Ivan Levytskyi and Bohdan Heleta, both priests of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), were among the ten individuals released by Russia in a prisoner exchange with Ukraine. The two priests had been arrested on November 16, 2022, and for a long time there had been no news of their whereabouts. Announcing the release of this group in a post on X, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wrote: “I am grateful to everyone who helped. I thank our team working to free the prisoners. I also want to acknowledge the efforts of the Holy See in bringing these people home.”

The two Redemptorists had stayed in the occupied territories

The primate and head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, echoed similar sentiments, thanking Pope Francis, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and the entire Vatican diplomatic corps for their efforts. Special thanks were also expressed to Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, who had repeatedly called for the release of the two clerics, and Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the apostolic nuncio in Ukraine. Each of them, as noted in a communiqué from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, made an invaluable personal contribution to make the liberation of the prisoners possible.

The communiqué also mentioned that Fathers Ivan Levytskyi and Bohdan Heleta had chosen to stay with their community in the temporarily occupied territories, ministering to both Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic communities. They were arrested on charges of possessing weapons. It was only recently, that Major Archbishop Sviatoslav had received confirmation that the two Redemptorists were still alive.

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