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At Riverhead church, pastor leads prayers for the people of Ukraine

Thursday morning found Rev. Bohdan Hedz sitting at his desk in his church rectory in Riverhead. He was anxious to call his mother, who lives near the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

For days Rev. Hedz had followed the news of the Russian military buildup along the Ukrainian border and every few days he reached out to his mother.

“It was always very obvious the Russians would attack,” Rev. Hedz said. “Anyone who thought they wouldn’t was very naïve. This is what the Russians do. They don’t care about people. And they won’t stop with Ukraine. They will keep going.”

As Russian troops launched their attack, Rev. Hedz reached his mother to make sure she was safe. “She said she was OK,” he said. “But something she said was alarming: bombs had been found in a brick factory near the city. She said they were planted by saboteurs, paid agents. The bombs were safely removed.”

He said his mother has a visa that allows her to come to America.

“She said she won’t come,” he said. “She wants to be with her people. She is a retired history teacher. She knows the past and what has happened in her country.”

Rev. Hedz’s wife, Lina — Eastern Rite Catholic priests can marry — talked to her family in a city in eastern Ukraine, near the Russian border. “This is where the fighting is going on,” he said. “Her mother, father, brother and sister – they are all there. They were awakened early by the explosion. The airport near them was struck.”

Follow the latest from Ukraine, via AP

At 9 a.m. Thursday, Rev. Hedz held a morning Mass at his church, St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church on Pond View Road. The church’s history in Riverhead, which has a rich Polish past, dates to 1924 and was built by Ukrainian immigrants, according to Riverhead historian Richard Wines.

Smoke billows from a missile attack in Kyiv, Ukraine Thursday. Southold Town historian Amy Folk said her sister’s co-worker is currently in Kyiv and took the image. (Courtesy photo)

During the Mass, Rev. Hedz said, “We prayed for the people of Ukraine, for those who are caught in this. We asked God to give them strength. But we know this: the Russians will not stop. They will keep rolling.”

On Friday morning, as wet snow fell outside the church, Rev. Hedz prepared for the 9 a.m. Mass. He lit the candles on the altar and put on his robes. Prior to Mass he said, depending on who came, he would either speak in Ukrainian or English. The weather appeared to keep people away.

But the country of his own birth, and where so many family members still live, was on his thoughts.

On the altar he prayed “for the defenders of Ukraine,” and for those who are in the path of “this Russian aggression.” He prayed for those who have lost their lives, and who will die as fighting rages on.

And he added this: “We pray for the courage of all the world’s leader to stand up to this evil.” When he finished Mass, he said, “The fate of the world is at stake. It’s a repeat of 1939” — the year the Germans invaded Poland and set off World War II.

As Mass was ending, Katherine Bach came in and took a seat in a pew, fell to her knees, and prayed. Outside in the snow she said she had driven from her home in Pennsylvania to visit her 91-year-old mother in Greenport.

“I wanted to be in this church this morning,” she said. “I really felt this was the church I wanted to be in, that it is my duty to pray for the people of Ukraine. It’s a small thing to be here, but I wanted to do something.”