Manitoba

Statue of saint at Winnipeg Ukrainian Catholic church decapitated, staff stolen

A statue of a saint that was blessed by a Pope at a Winnipeg cathedral has been decapitated, and its staff stolen.

Statue of St. Volodymyr found without head, staff after residents heard grinding sound early Tuesday

The statue of St. Volodymyr at Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Sts. Vladimir and Olga on McGregor Street between Stella and Flora Avenues, was discovered headless Tuesday morning. (Travis Golby/CBC)

The leader of a Winnipeg cathedral says he's hurt after a statue of a saint that was blessed by a Pope at his church was decapitated, and its staff stolen.

The statue of St. Volodymyr at the Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Sts. Vladimir & Olga on McGregor Street, between Flora and Stella Avenues, was found headless early Tuesday morning.

Right Rev. Monsignor Michael Buyachok said he was out of town until Tuesday afternoon, but went to the church after learning of the vandalism from his secretary.

"I took a look at the statue and felt devastated," Buyachok said.

"It's a tragic event, because the statue symbolizes something for us. Our congregation, they know the statue from memory. But that's the way it is."

A staff member at the Ukrainian Catholic church said residents of an apartment block across the street were woken in the early hours by a grinding sound. (Travis Golby/CBC)

The statue, which was created by well-known Winnipeg sculptor Leo Mol, was blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1984, Buyachok said.

The saint it depicts is significant for Ukrainian Catholics for accepting Christianity in Ukraine in 988 when he was a prince, Buyachok said.

Residents of a seniors' home across the street saw teens who appeared to be playing around near the statue Monday night, Buyachok added. Another church staff member told CBC News some residents were woken in the early hours of Tuesday morning by a grinding sound outside.

Right Rev. Monsignor Michael Buyachok said he hopes the stolen pieces will be returned so the statue can be repaired. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

When people went to investigate, they found the statue's head had been stolen, along with the top and bottom of its staff. The top of the staff was a tryzub, a symbol on the Ukrainian coat of arms, Buyachok said.

Police say they're aware of the incident, which is being described as a vandalism and theft. It's believed to have taken place around 4:30 a.m. Tuesday, police say.

Buyachok said he doesn't know what's behind the incident.

"I really couldn't tell you. I think it's just vandalism, straight vandalism," he said. "They wouldn't have anything against the cathedral, because the statue's been there for years, since 1984."

He's hopeful the missing pieces can be recovered, and the statue can be repaired.

"If by miracle we get the head back, we can get it fixed by local people here," he said.

Pope John Paul II blessed the statue in 1984, shown in this shot from the CBC archives. (CBC)

The cathedral has contacted local metal scrappers and asked to be notified if the head or staff are brought in in an attempt to make money, he added.

"There's always hope," he said.

Mariana Raikh, a parishioner at the cathedral who was there for a service Wednesday, said she can't believe the vandalism happened. Raikh previously lived in western Ukraine.

"This is our history, of Ukraine, and our heritage," she said.

When she sees the statue now, she said she feels scared and sad.

"We just would like to know who did it and what were the reasons," she said.

Mariana Raikh, a parishioner at the cathedral, said the statue is part of Ukrainian history and would like to know why someone would want to destroy it. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

To whoever is responsible, Buyachok said he'd simply ask to have the missing pieces returned.

"I would just simply tell them, just return the head to us. We won't prosecute you," he said. "Let those that prosecute people, let them do that. But we won't do anything to you, because what's the point?"

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Winnipeg Police Service at 204-986-6222. Information can also be provided anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 204-786-TIPS (8477).

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the statue's staff as a cross. In fact, Right Rev. Monsignor Michael Buyachok said it is a tryzub, a symbol seen on the Ukrainian coat of arms.
    May 22, 2019 9:25 PM CT

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