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Despite decades of official atheism, Christian symbolism is compellingly strong in central and eastern Ukraine, which is why many are cautious to enter dwellings where Greek Catholics worship: The buildings often lack the proper symbols and icons.

Six miles further south in the 700-strong village of Mala Vilshanka, the Rev. Ihor Hrishchenko faces the same challenge. He is blessed with two enormous rooms inside an abandoned, run-down Soviet-era facility once used to develop new grain seeds.

He celebrates the sacraments regularly with about a dozen parishioners — although as large a group as half the village comes out on Epiphany to bless water in January — yet the small community “wants something of its own,” he says.

“The parish and I want an appropriate religious atmosphere here,” Father Hrishchenko says. “You don’t want to go to a random café; you want something of your own. But we have no money to build one.”

Still, the parish has the luxury of a separate room for social events and gatherings crucial to building a parish community. Father Hrishchenko uses the space for screening films, putting on plays and inviting guest lecturers to speak on such topics as marriage, ethics and holidays.

“Even though there is the internet and people can instantly access information, it’s more useful to have a ‘human library,’ an expert to talk about the Holy Scripture and other topics,” he says.

The 35-year-old priest also leads another parish in neighboring Bila Tserkva, comprised of some 40 faithful who gather inside a dilapidated Soviet-era household goods store — a brick building with a crumbling façade.

For two years, when he had no car, Father Hrishchenko would take the bus to the village parish and then hitchhike back to the district center in every kind of weather.

Such concessions are necessary when resources are tight. The average Ukrainian monthly salary barely reaches $200, and diminishes as one moves farther away from urban centers.

“It would take 20 or 30 years’ worth of donations to build a church on what we get in our donation boxes, which hardly covers expenses for liturgy — bread, charcoal, candles and wine.”

The curia of the major archeparchy in Kiev struggles to satisfy the demand for more parishes against limits of both resources and clergy, which partially explains why most parishes are still in their early developmental stages.

Currently, ten communities await parish priests for service, says the eparchy’s chancellor, the Rev. Vasyl Chudiyovych.

Administratively, the priest says, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church practices the principle handed down by the late Major Archbishop Lubomyr Husar, who said whenever there is one family, a group of three or five people, it needs to be served.

Since the nearest seminary — founded in Kiev in 2010 — has graduated only two classes thus far, the archeparchy still draws upon others for pastoral support to fulfill demand, he says.

“Right now we have 112 priests and deacons, 40 of whom serve in the city of Kiev,” Father Chudiyovych says.

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