A priest from Pohrebyshche, Vinnytsia Oblast, organized a school for parachuting. He recruits children. First, together with instructors from the Parachute Unit of the Vinnytsia Aviation Club, he teaches them the theory, then the children go through practical training, and finally, they skydive.
“When I was in Jerusalem, I saw boys and girls serving in the army and defending their country,” says Father Victor Khomenko, head of the Assumption of the Mother of God Church (UOC-MP) in Pohrebyshche. “When I was there I thought of organizing such a school. When I returned from Jerusalem, I saw a car with a sticker advertising ‘skydiving.’ I motioned to the driver to stop. We parked on the shoulder. The driver was one of the instructors of this school,” he points to the building, “I talked with him and told him about my idea, and he agreed to help me.”
Before founding the Oleksii Tsysarevych Orthodox Military-Patriotic Parachute School, Father Khomenko asked the bishop for his blessing.
“I went to him,” continues the priest, “and explained to him everything, and he blessed me. And then I felt very good, because I had long dreamed about starting such a school. And so everything began.”
Father Khomenko recruited children to his school in the end of autumn. Any child can become his student. The most important condition is that every Sunday the child attends church, goes to confession and communion.
“I know that not all the children joined this school through the church,” said the priest. “Most of them just want to go skydiving. But since they signed up for this school, they started to attend church. And thank God that I was able to bring them closer to God, to faith, even in such a way.”
The classes meet twice a week: Tuesdays and Thursdays.
“We train in gyms, in the church,” explains Yurii Pidlisnyi, a pupil of the school. “Once the Father showed as a video on the computer. He taught us how to fold a parachute, and we also trained on various simulators.”
Both boys and girl attend the church school. The students are of different ages, but only those 14 or over can jump, and only with written consent from their parents. Students 18 and over are responsible for themselves.
“At first I wasn’t sure about letting girls join,” says the priest. “But then I though if they also want to jump, why not? In Jerusalem girls serve in the army. Here they cannot become soldiers, so let them have a taste of it. Skydiving really changes a person,” he shakes his head, “after a jump he or she sees the world differently.
Father Khomenko calls his students “warriors.” On the territory of the aviation club the students walk in formation. The children arrived here by bus. At 9 a.m. the children have their pulses measured. They are asked how they are feeling. The students smile; they say that they are eager to jump already.
On the eve of a jump, the father hears confessions and gives communion to the children.
“I have never heard such confessions nor felt such sincerity since I became a priest from the confessions I hear from the children before they jump.”
The students admit that when they go to confession their fears go away, that they gain more courage.
“This isn’t bad because when a person is with God, he isn’t worried. When you go to confession you feel better, and if you are with God, then nothing frightens you,” explains one of the pupils of the church school, Nadia Humeniuk.
Once all the children undergo medical examinations, they go to the moleben in formation.
The priest puts on his vestment, next to him stand women, who sing in the church choir. The priest leads the service, after which he anoints the children. Then the preparation for the jump begins. The children go through several stages. First they learn to jump from a height of 1.5 meters; then from 3 meters. They are taught how to behave on a plane, how to masterly pull the cord, look at the canopy of the parachute. The children spend 3 to 4 hours in practical training. Next they are taken by bus to the airport. There the instructors help them put on the parachutes and remind them how to jump properly. Seven children at a time go on the plane. Father Khomenko also jumps with them. They jump from a height of 900 meters. A few of them accidently open two parachutes and fly with both. Most jump correctly. The descent lasts about 15 minutes.
“When the instructor pushed me – those three seconds when I was half flying were very scary,” Yurii Volovyk shares his experience after he lands. His hands and legs are still shaking, but that is normal.
One such jump with the Parachute Unit of the Vinnytisa Aviation Club costs 300 hryvnias. For children of this school, it is free.
“We are helped by our friends from Donetsk, God bless them. They donate money for the special clothes for the children,” he points to the students, “and therefore pay for the jumps. And the club also helps by charge a fair fee.”
The priest plans to continue his activity. The most capable students will go to Zhytomyr for professional training – with the consent of the children and their parents.