Prayers at Wesminster Abbey for Holodomor victims

As the commemoration drew to a close at Westminster Central Hall, the Dean of Westminster Abbey, Dr John Hall and Canon Robert Reiss were preparing for Evensong in Westminster Abbey which those attending the tribute at Westminster Central Hall were invited to attend. This was the first time that the Ukrainian diaspora in Great Britain had been welcomed into an Abbey known around the world as a place for Coronations, Royal weddings, state funerals, but today, a place to pray for the victims of the Holodomor. 

2,000 Ukrainians joined a procession led by church banners and priests of the Ukrainian Catholic and Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, taking them from Westminster Central Hall to the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey. There they were met by the Dean and Canon Reiss. Matthew Arnoldi, Head of Protocol and his team of stewards efficiently directed the seemingly endless flow of people to their places within minutes. Everyone was seated in the Abbey according to strict protocol, with our top participants and guests taking the most important seats in the Abbey Choir while 75 children, holding candles symbolising every year since the 1932-33 Holodomor, were allocated rows of seats where they could see and follow the service. The Dean and Canon Reiss welcomed us to Evensong and brief description of the Holodomor was included in the Order of Service.

Evensong was, as is customary in the Abbey, sung in Latin by the Abbey choristers – and the traditional settings gave a spirit of peace and purity to the day of commemoration, particularly Palestrina’s Magnificat:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord… 
He has shown strength with his arm: and has scattered the proud in their conceit, casting down the mighty from their thrones: and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things: and sent the rich away empty…”

Following Evensong, Canon Reiss led the Ukrainian priests, church banner bearers and guests to the Great West Door to the Memorial to the Innocent Victims of Oppression, Violence and War through a path bordered by the 75 children holding lighted candles. The Canon prayed for the repose of the souls of those millions who died in the Holodomor 75 years ago. Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic priests conducted a Panakhyda (requiem) Service sung by the choir of the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London.

Everyone present sang ‘Vichnaya Pamyat’ (Eternal Memory) and then the Ukrainian Ambassador, Dr Ihor Kharchenko, laid a wreath made of wheat, of which the centre was filled with an earthenware bowl (makitra) full of wheat grains and a lighted candle. Wheat sheaves woven with deep red blood poppies tied with a black ribbon were laid by Fedir Kurlak, CEO of the AUGB, and Rev. Mykhailo Hutorniy, a Holodomor survivor.

As darkness began to fall, the 75 children filed to the Memorial to lay candles in memory of the innocent victims of one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. 

The commemoration concluded with The Lord’s Prayer first in English and finally Ukrainian. As everyone slowly dispersed, after a moving, yet life-affirming day of remembrance, two aeroplanes created a cross in the skies above Westminster Abbey, while the 75 candles shone out through this corner of London to show that Ukraine remembered and the world had acknowledged.


Procession with church banners to Westminster Abbey

Panakhyda Service. Clegy from left to right: Rev. D. Senyk, Canon Reiss, Rev. B. Lysykanych, Rev. A. Choma, Rev. M. Hutornyj, unknown, Rev. J. Rij.

Panakhyda Service. London Cathedral Choir

Children place 75 candles around the monument.

A cross formed by planes flying over Westminster Abbey as the congregation began to sing "Eternal Memory"