PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Father Volodymyr Radko had one of the best days of his life — and one of the worst — in a span of just 12 days. On Feb. 12, he was ordained at St. Sophia Church on the campus of Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, the city where he was born. On Feb. 24, the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
Father Radko, 31, traveled to Ukraine from the U.S., where he serves at the Archeparchy of Philadelphia for the Ukrainian Catholic Church, and planned to return to America by the end of February. However, he was stuck in Ukraine. As a Ukrainian citizen, and as a male under the age of 60, he was prohibited from leaving the country due to an emergency order from the government.
A report came in on Monday that Father Radko was able to escape Ukraine and managed to get to Warsaw, Poland. From there, he expected to board a flight to Paris, according to Father Michael Perry, a retired priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and a friend of Father Radko, who spoke to him by phone.
Earlier Father Radko was able to tell The Tablet his ordeal.
“On the morning of the invasion, I woke up quite shocked. I was frustrated because I couldn’t believe it happened,” he said.
He spends his days praying and counseling terrified students at Ukrainian Catholic University, where he is staying. And he spends his nights listening for air raid sirens — the signal that he must seek shelter.
“You go to the basement or to the shelter and it becomes quiet. And then you wait until you get the all-clear signal. We have the apps in our phones to let us know,” he said.
Despite the air raid sirens, Father Radko felt relatively safe — for now. Lviv is located in the western end of Ukraine. The bulk of the fighting is taking place in the east and south. But the uncertainty he faces makes life hard. At that point he didn’t know when he would be able to leave.
And the unpredictability of the air raid sirens is stressful. “We went for five straight days without anything and that was peaceful. Then, we had them every night for several nights,” he said.
As a newly ordained priest, he feels it’s important for him to counsel students. Classes have resumed and the students who reside on campus often seek him out. “Serving the people also helps me not to worry all day because you’re doing something,” he said.
But it all comes down to prayer for him. “The prayerful life is the center, the foundation, of my life,” he said.
The students he encounters, while frightened, are also defiant and optimistic. “They talk a lot about the future. They are confident they have a future,” he said.
Father Radko said he felt the calling to become a priest at a young age. He was born in Lviv and was raised in Belarus. He studied in Ukraine and France, and came to the U.S. to complete his studies at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. Technically, he is assigned to serve at the Eparchy of St. Volodymyr the Great in Paris but had been living and serving the Archeparchy of Philadelphia for three years. He hopes to return there.
Father Perry admires his courage. The two met back when Father Perry was living in Paris and Volodymyr Radko was one of his students, studying English.
“For a young priest as structured and disciplined as he is to find himself in a war zone in the first month of his priesthood and to do as well as he has is a testament to him,” Father Perry said.