Oleksa Zaryckyj was born 17 October 1912 in the village of Bilco, in western Ukraine in Lviv (Lvov). As a boy, he had only one desire: to become a priest. In 1931 he entered the seminary in Lviv and five years after, in 1936, he was ordained by Metropolitan Sheptytsky as a diocesan priest of the Archeparchy of Lviv of the Ukrainians.
These were terrible times under Stalin and communism, and any priests considered dangerous quickly disappeared to Siberia. For eleven years Fr Zaryckyj looked after his people, teaching catechism, hearing confessions, celebrating Mass, bringing communion. All this time he was being watched and at risk of death.
In 1948 he was captured by the Bolsheviks. He was told to renounce the Pope, but he refused and was sentenced to ten years in prison and deported to Karaganda in Kazakhstan. His letters back home were inspiring. To his father he wrote: “Every day and every hour, we offer all our suffering to Jesus, who carried his cross on Calvary to show us how to come to eternal life. Pray a lot. Prayer is our greatest strength.” To his married brother he wrote: “Whoever has God in his soul has everything…. This is my ray of light, the highest thought of my life.”
Released early in 1957, Fr Zaryckyj was appointed Apostolic Administrator of Kazakhstan and Siberia. He travelled thousands of miles through snow and ice. Soon after he was imprisoned again in a concentration camp Dolinka near Karaganda. His parting words were, “Set your life so that in the future we can all find ourselves in the Heart of Jesus to glorify God for all eternity.” He was beaten in prison and died a martyr of the faith on 30 October 1963. Oleksa Zaryckyj was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001, along with 24 other Ukrainian victims of the Soviet regime.