SVYATOGORSK, Ukraine - Revolution in the West, insurrection in the East and Russian troops massing just across the border: There are plenty of reasons why Ukrainians might seek solace in God.
At this quiet monastery atop a hill, faith is bringing together regular parishioners despite their deep political divides.
"All Ukrainians have faith," said Alexandra Panova, a nurse visiting Svyatogorsk monastery with her nine-year-old son. "We all believe. I come here for peace of mind, both generally, and because of the current conflict."
Many indeed are trying to find peace in this ancient spiritual center about 20 miles from Slaviansk, an eastern stronghold of pro-Russian, armed men and checkpoints reinforced by truck tires and sandbags.
"Personally, I want to be united with Russia,” Alexandra Panova says.
Svyatogorsk, or Holy Hill, is surrounded by fir trees and overlooks the Donets River. Monks built the first monastery on the summit five centuries ago, and it has been a citadel of pilgrimage for millions of Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox Church members.
But contemplation and prayer don’t erase the political differences between those who attend services at Svyatogorsk.
"Ukraine has been left without God"
"Personally, I want to be united with Russia,” Panova said after a recent service.
Elena Naunova, a middle-aged Ukrainian who’s worked her whole life as a cook, believed Ukraine should remain united, and rejected the aggression of the pro-Russian insurgents.
She also blamed the media for drumming up trouble and disrupting the peace.
"The TV is constantly going on about terrorists and provocations. Jet fighter planes shooting and bombing. But look, you see, it is calm, thank God," she said. "Everything should be peaceful, they should demand their rights in a peaceful way, and the authorities should listen."
While the monastery has been able to unite regular parishioners like Naunova and Panova in prayer despite their opposing beliefs, those at the top of the church seem unable to remain above the political fray.
The Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Patriarchs’ words could hardly have been more discordant during the traditional Easter messages last weekend. Kirill, the Russian, asked to pray for the people of Ukraine.
"For an end to violence, for people’s love for each other, so that they should not be divided," he said.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Filaret openly called Russia "the aggressor."
"Russia has taken Crimea from us the eastern regions of Ukraine," he said. "But we must remember that before the resurrection there was the crucifixion and suffering."
The Russian church encompasses its Ukrainian affiliate, although they have their own hierarchies.
Meanwhile, inside the Church of St Nicholas next to the monastery, monks moved busily in unison in their black robes, lighting candles before a sumptuous altar, rolling out carpets, kissing icons and preparing incense.
Men like these have repeated the same rituals in this church thousands of times. But this time, dozens of worshippers all seemed to be praying with a purpose, bracing for a civil war that could be just around the corner.
Kolya Kaupatenko fears the growing violence in his hometown of Slaviansk.
"Ukraine has been left without God," said Kolya Kaupatenko, a twenty-something Ukrainian who feared the growing violence in his hometown of Slaviansk. "It’s terrible. There’s banditry everywhere. What kind of life is this?"
Still, people here feel they will survive because Svyatogorsk always has through the centuries.
"The events in Kiev, the revolution, should never have happened the way it did," Panova said. "But I have Svyatogorsk, and I don’t think I’ll leave Ukraine, no matter what. Life goes on, as they say."
First published April 26 2014, 2:01 AM
In a career spanning 40 years, Jim Maceda has covered more than 100 countries and many conflicts, terrorist attacks and natural disasters, as well as cultural and human interest stories. He has interviewed dozens of world leaders. Over the years, Maceda has reported from the front lines of Rhodesia, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, and Chechnya, as well as on the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, including NATO airstrikes in Serbia and Kosovo. He is the veteran of scores of embeds in Afghanistan and Iraq, doing stories on the U.S. Army, Marines and Special Forces as well as insurgents and civilians torn apart by war. Since 1999, Maceda has been based in London.
... Expand Bio
Maceda was named NBC News' Germany correspondent in 1994, based in Frankfurt, from where he covered Eastern Europe, the Bosnian civil war and peacekeeping missions in the former Yugoslavia and Haiti. In addition, he covered major breaking news in Iran, Russia, China and the Middle East.
In 1990 Maceda became the NBC News Moscow correspondent, covering an array of stories from the Soviet Union and Russia, including the attempted coup on then-President Mikhail G. Gorbachev and the fall of the Soviet Union. In February 1992 Maceda became the first foreign TV correspondent to gain access to a secret nuclear city in Siberia, named K-26, which housed the biggest plutonium weapons factory in the former Soviet Union. Maceda also covered the civil war and the failed U.S. peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
Maceda was based in Manila from 1988 to 1990 as an NBC News Asia reporter and producer. He covered a wide range of datelines, including the Cambodian War, the Burma Revolt, the Drug War in Colombia and the Panama Invasion. In 1989 he won an Emmy for his reporting on the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing.
From 1984 to 1988, Maceda was a senior news producer in London. During that time, he was part of the first U.S. television team to cover the devastating famine in Ethiopia. In 1988 he won an Emmy for his coverage of the Palestinian Intifada, or Uprising, the same year he made his switch to on-air reporting. He also served as the acting bureau chief for NBC News in Manila in 1986, during the People Power Revolt and fall of Ferdinand Marcos.
Maceda was the deputy bureau chief and producer for NBC News in Tel Aviv from 1981 to 1983 where he covered major events including Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights, its handing over of the Sinai to Egypt and the 1982 Lebanon War. While in Beirut, he produced the heralded 17-part "Lebanon Diary" series.
Maceda got his start in journalism as an associate producer for CBS News in Paris, from 1973 to 1976. As a freelance reporter and producer for French TV from 1976 to 1980, he was the first to secure a joint interview for a European TV network with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat after the Camp David Accords. In 1980 he joined NBC News' Paris Bureau as an associate producer and researcher.
Maceda has won numerous awards and citations, including an Edward R. Murrow award for his coverage of the 7/7 London terror bombings, seven Emmy nominations, four Overseas Press Club awards, and three National Headliner awards. In 1991 he received the Olive Branch Award from Columbia University for his stories on Russian nuclear proliferation. Maceda has had the distinction of reporting exclusively for two, long-running news series on "Nightly News with Brian Williams": "Putinâ€™s Russia" (2007-2008) and "Far From Home" (in Afghanistan, 2010-12).
Maceda graduated from Stanford University in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He then pursued post-graduate studies at the Paris Sorbonne. He is married to Cindy Lilles, has a grown daughter from a previous marriage, and is the doting grandpa of three young girls.