My name is Sister Yulia, I was born in a small village Ozernoye in the north of Kazakhstan. The story of my vocation is simple and is directly related to Our Lady, Queen of Peace.
The village where I was born was founded by devout Catholics deported from western Ukraine in 1936. One of the crimes of Stalin’s regime against humanity was the mass deportation of people from the Soviet Union’s border areas. Up to 70,000 Germans, Poles and others were deported to the desert steppes of northern Kazakhstan.
My ancestors lived peacefully in Zhitomir in Ukraine. When suddenly one day people came to their door with orders to transport them to Kazakhstan. They were told that they could take whatever they wanted and that they all had to be packed in the morning.
Imagine a young family with a five-year-old child and the smallest newborn who need to pack up quickly and leave behind everything: their beloved home, their relatives and their work and go to somewhere in Kazakhstan, and why? They didn’t quite understand what was going on.
The journey was very long and tiring. People were transported on cattle wagons and unloaded in the bare steppe. It was frightening: an endless barren steppe, no trees, no houses, just waist-high grass that gave the impression of a body of water.
They immediately started building houses on their own without any building materials except earth, water and grass. Straw and clay were used to make bricks and build earth houses. It was June and there was a need to hurry before the cold winter arrived.
The winters in the new environment were very hard, down to minus 40°C, and it was very difficult to live because there was neither coal nor wood for heating; they used dry grass to heat up. Their clothes were not warm enough for the climate of Kazakhstan, so the mortality rate was high, 5-12 people died every day, mostly children.
In memory of the victims of these repressions, a cross was erected on the hill. This is our Križevac, which is now a place of pilgrimage and prayer.
The most precious things that people brought with them were icons and prayer books. My grandmother kept the books in a beautiful embroidered napkin, and we knew it was something that was very precious to her.
People were forbidden to pray because they were trying to impose the ideology that God didn’t exist.
That’s why the villagers would gather for prayer after a hard day’s work – at night, behind closed doors and windows. They prayed the rosary and called on the Mother of God to help them survive in those endless steppes.
And the Lord answered their prayers on March 25, 1941, when, in early spring, a 5 x 7 km lake was miraculously filled with fish that saved the people from starvation. Not only that, but there were so many fish and they were so big that they could be caught with their hands. For the faithful, it was a sign from heaven that Our Lady had answered their prayers.
They caught the fish with their hands, salted them in barrels, and many, even from the farthest corners of Kazakhstan, came to our village to get it.
Today, a statue of Our Lady towers over the lake with a bountiful catch, with nets full of fish.
Since 1955, priests began to come to our village secretly, baptizing, marrying and confessing at night. Many of them later perished in the camps as a result.
From the beginning there was a desire in the hearts of the people to build a church, a place where they could all meet and pray.
However, permission from Moscow was not obtained until March 1990. The villagers built the church all by themselves, as they knew they had no architect: they made the bricks, mixed the cement.
At the same time, they turned to the Polish bishops with a request to send them a priest. And when the priest arrived, the church was already half-built.
The locals wanted the church to be dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, but a letter came from a Dutch priest who wanted to give them a statue of Our Lady, asking that the church be dedicated to Our Lady, Queen of Peace. So, the statue of the Queen of Peace was delivered to Ozernoye.
At that time none of us had heard of Medjugorje, only later, when the parish priest went on pilgrimage to Medjugorje, did he notice the similarity.
In 1994, the Queen of Peace was proclaimed the main patroness of Kazakhstan, and in 1995, in Ozernoye, Archbishop Jan Paweł Lenga entrusted the whole of Kazakhstan and Central Asia under her protection.
Now this place is the national shrine of Kazakhstan, where many pilgrims come. Another sign of this place is the Chapel of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament called the Star of Kazakhstan.
The 12 stars in the wreath of Our Lady – these are the 12 places in the world where people pray for peace.
Ozernoye is one of such places. People come to the shrine to be in the presence of God, and the villagers, in spite of their work and daily worries, are an example for others in their zeal for adoration. Ozernoye is truly a small oasis in the steppe where people find God.
Just see how a former place of suffering, hunger and death has been transformed into a place of great grace. Our Lady cares for the weak and the poor in a special way. The fifth generation of settlers lives in Ozernoye, but the memories of the difficult events of 1936 live on in our hearts to this day.
When I was about five years old, I started going to church. As a little girl, I was moved by the beauty of the statue of the Queen of Peace. I liked simply looking at Mary because I felt that she was looking at me and I felt peace in my heart in her presence.
I also remember that sometimes when the Mass was in Polish, I found it boring because I didn’t understand anything, but I always came because my mother brought me with her.
Once the rector of the seminary visited us and asked us to pray for new vocations. My friend and I, even though we were still little girls, took this request seriously and began to pray for this.
We didn’t pray for ourselves, but for others – but God called us. I felt the call to join the Community of the Beatitudes and Tatiana joined the Congregation of Sisters Servants of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Every time Tatiana and I meet, we recall it with a smile.
In 1999, the youth meetings started to be held here. The young people from all over Kazakhstan came to attend a spiritual renewal that lasted 5 days and involved a 12 km pilgrimage on foot to the cross on the hill, adoration, confession, prayer evenings.
And it was during one prayer evening that God made it clear to me that he was calling me. It was like this: Each participant had to decide between several suggested vocations that were drawn on little pieces of paper. For example, the rings symbolized marriage, the heart symbolized religious life, and the cross symbolized the priesthood.
It was a very touching moment for me. The Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar, beautiful songs about God… I joined this activity with the intention of choosing marriage, of course, because I was very much in love with one boy.
But at one point I looked at the Blessed Sacrament and the weeping girls who had chosen consecrated life, and I too made my way in their direction. I felt that he loved me very much and that this love was different, that it was not like the love I felt for the young man.
I was afraid, but at the same time my heart was filled with joy. I began to cry and I said “yes” to God. At that moment I realized that my life plans were falling apart, that things weren’t going to be the way I wanted them to be, I knew I was going to have problems with my parents, but I was happy! I was 14 years old.
Life with God and especially religious life is an adventure. Every day is different from the day before. How many beautiful moments God gives us to experience! I am grateful to Him for the gift of vocation, for my brothers and sisters of the Community of the Beatitudes and for all the joys and tears in my life.
I know that He chose – not the smartest and strongest girl in the world – but the one from a small village. God personally took care of everything to bring me into my community. The first year I lived there as a student and studied, and later I set out on my religious journey.
In conclusion, I would like to say a few words to you. God loves each one of you so much, remember that you are His treasure, that you are His beloved child and that only with Him will you find true happiness. I have already experienced it…