Claremont church offers solace to those with ties to Russia, Ukraine

  • Father Andrew Tregubov turns to face the congregation during a service at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Claremont, N.H., on Wednesday, March 3, 2022 in which prayers were offered for the cessation of hostilities against Ukraine. An Orthodox church in nearby Springfield, Vt., received hate messages accusing the church of being Russian communists early in the invasion. Both churches, though they were founded early in the 20th century by immigrants from what was then the Russian Empire, now belong to the Orthodox Church in America, and are non-ethnic. “There is no doubt where the church is standing and that is with the persecuted,” said Tregubov. “We stand with Ukraine.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

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    George Rivet, 4, of Etna, lights a candle upon arriving for vespers at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church as Father Andrew Tregubov, left, leads the service in Claremont, N.H., on Wednesday, March 3, 2022. Rivet has Ukranian ancestry and his grandparents live in Moscow. Oksana Kevorkian, of Claremont, is at right. Tregubov's grandmother was from a village in what is now Ukraine. He was born in Moscow and came to the United States as a refugee from the Soviet Union in 1975. "There was a breath of freedom after the collapse of the Soviet Union," said Tregubov, until the resurgence of autocracy under Putin. "People are bleeding and dying because of that." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

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    Following a vespers service at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in which prayers were offered for the cessation of hostilities in Ukraine, Father Andrew Tregubov, right, talks with, from left, Jonathan Elliott, of Plainfield, Anastasia Rivet, of Etna, her sons George, 4, and Theodore, 1, and husband Chris in Claremont, N.H., on Wednesday, March 3, 2022. Anastasia, who has Ukrainian ancestry and whose parents live in Moscow, has long hoped they would return to the United States since a family friend was murdered in Russia in 2004. "Things like that happen, and if you offend the wrong person, it’s sort of like the wild west," she said. "We thought of it as a second home for such a long time - you get comfortable in a place, and this crisis has made it feel like things could change really quickly.” (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • “It is absolutely horrific what is going on there,” said Claremont resident Oksana Kevorkian, whose parents live in Ukraine, after extinguishing candles at the close of a vespers service at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Claremont, N.H., on Wednesday, March 3, 2022. “The Ukrainians are writing their history with their own blood right now,” she said. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/12/2022 10:39:39 PM
Modified: 3/12/2022 10:38:57 PM

Though she remains in contact with friends who have fled Ukraine, Anastasia Rivet can take in only so much information about the war there.

One family she knows has split up, with the husband staying to fight and his wife and two daughters enduring a cramped, 20-hour train ride to Poland.

Rivet has tried to persuade her parents, who are American citizens, to leave Moscow, but they feel secure there and plan to stay. Her brother and his family are still in Russia.

“I’ve tried to stop looking at the news,” Rivet, an Etna resident, said in a phone interview. “It just feels like it’s getting worse and worse.”

But there is a place that serves as a bit of a refuge from the conflict, which began Feb. 24 when Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine.

Last week, Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, in Claremont, held services every day but Friday in recognition of Lent. Built in 1941 by a congregation established in 1909, the church is now serving as a support and a place of prayer for people seeking an authority greater than a strongman and his army.

“I think it’s been fairly important,” said Rivet, 31. “I mean, it’s hard to explain, but it’s sort of calming, and it sort of takes the power away from people like Putin.

“Going to church, I just feel reminded that he isn’t that powerful, that there are more powerful things in the world,” such as kindness, she said. “People have shown so much kindness in this situation.”

The church was founded by immigrants from a village in what is now Belarus, Father Andrew Tregubov said. Immigrants from another village settled in Springfield, Vt., and opened an Orthodox church there, Tregubov said.

He noted that though the church was founded under the auspices of the Russian Orthodox Mission, it is not a Russian church. That relationship was broken after 1917, and what’s more, “the people of this community were never from Russia.”

The church is now affiliated with the Orthodox Church in America, which is independent of the Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe and elsewhere. The last member of its original community is 95.

Now, most of the 100 or so parishioners at Holy Resurrection are converts; Tregubov called it a “commuter church,” and some worshippers drive long distances to attend.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t worshippers with origins in Russia, Belarus or Ukraine. Tregubov himself, for instance.

He and his wife were political refugees from the Soviet Union, coming to the U.S. in 1975. They moved to Cavendish, Vt., two years later and worked for the celebrated Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, then in residence in Cavendish and unwelcome in his homeland. Tregubov undertook divinity studies and became a priest for the Claremont church in 1979.

“When Solzhenitsyn left, we stayed here,” he said.

His parents, and his wife’s, came to live here and have since died.

“We are Americans,” Tregubov said. They were naturalized in 1980.

Russia’s assault on Ukraine has brought to mind the dread of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, he said.

“For some, it’s a shock that the Russian government can behave in such a profoundly evil way,” he said. “It’s not a shock to me and my wife.”

The Russian people and soldiers also are victims, he said.

“They could have been free. They could have been democratic. They could have kicked out the budding dictator,” he said.

“There’s no question which side the church has sided with; that’s with the victims.”

The Orthodox Church in America is a small denomination, but it has raised and sent nearly $500,000 to churches in Poland to aid refugees, Tregubov said.

Within the Claremont church’s small community, parishioners pray for relatives in Ukraine or Russia and talk to one another about friends and family who are at risk.

Oksana Kevorkian, a Claremont resident since 2000, grew up in a village near Lviv, in western Ukraine, which hasn’t yet seen the kind of fighting that has scarred the cities on the eastern side of the country. Her parents still live there. They are safe, though an airfield about 15 miles from their house was bombed early in the invasion.

She stays in touch with friends via phone and text, and she has an uncle who lives in southeastern Ukraine, where fighting for control of the coast has been fierce.

“They’re all scared, and they don’t know what is going to happen,” she said.

Prayer is made for such uncertain times. In Orthodox churches, worshippers are surrounded by icons of the essential figures of their faith: Jesus, Mary, the saints.

“They stand there with you and they protect you,” Kevorkian said. “I feel like I’m surrounded not only by people but by this divine force that stands with you.”

Kevorkian, who grew up worshipping in the Eastern Catholic church and converted to the Orthodox faith in Claremont, also has drawn support from her professional life. She trained as an English teacher in the Soviet Union and was just out of college when it collapsed in 1991. She translated for Americans visiting Ukraine in search of their roots and was invited to the U.S. Once here, she won a lottery for a green card and stayed.

She taught in Westfield, Mass., which had such a large Ukrainian community that she served as a middle school bilingual educator. She’s been in the Claremont schools for 20 years, currently as a media specialist at the middle school.

“I feel so much support from people at the middle school,” she said — receiving texts, phone calls and letters. “It’s amazing how many people in the world have come together.”

That’s been true at the church, Etna resident Rivet said. Two Sundays ago, just a few days after Russia began its invasion, there were many more people in attendance.

Rivet’s family has deep roots in both Ukraine and Russia. Her father is a Dartmouth College graduate, and she graduated from Hanover High School in 2008. Her father worked in banking, first in the U.S., then in London and finally, after the fall of the Iron Curtain, in Moscow.

They had a nice life in Moscow, Rivet said of her upbringing there. She’s troubled by what she sees now.

“I’ve been looking at the Russian news, as well, and it’s like a total mirror image,” she said.

She said she hopes for a negotiated peace, but she doesn’t see Russia giving up.

Kevorkian said the same about Ukraine. She spent two months there last summer with her parents. Ukrainians are a free people and wish to remain so, she said.

“That’s why everything’s going like this. They will never go under anyone’s yoke,” she said. “They want to be free.”

Freedom, like peace, is something to pray for.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.




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