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Former Ukrainian pastor arrested in arson attack on family home of Ukrainian priest in Victoria last spring

Police said in a statement on Thursday that investigators determined the arson was a targeted offence, but was not a hate crime.
Father Yuriy Vyshnevskyy and his family narrowly escaped their home in the early hours of April 20, 2022. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A former priest for the Ukrainian Church in Victoria has been arrested in connection with a targeted arson fire last spring at the family home of the priest who replaced him.

Father Yuriy Vyshnevskyy and his family narrowly escaped the fire in their home next door to St. Nicholas the Wonderworker at Caledonia Avenue and Cook Street in the early hours of April 20, 2022.

Vyshnevskyy’s wife, who later said she heard someone pour gasoline through the mail slot into the home and set it on fire, was pulled off a window ledge and their three young daughters had to jump out a second-storey window to escape the blaze.

The oldest, who was 11 at the time, suffered a serious wound that required surgery to address nerve damage in her arm, which was cut deeply by broken window glass.

Victoria police major crime detectives arrested Walter “Theo” Machinski, 60, of Nanaimo on Wednesday. He is charged with one count of arson with disregard for human life.

Police said in a statement on Thursday that investigators determined the arson was a targeted offence, but not a hate crime. “The accused was known to the family, but it was not motivated by hatred toward an identifiable group,” VicPD said.

Alec Rossa, president of the Ukrainian Catholic Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, said Machinski was priest at the church from November 2011 to September 2015, and was replaced by Vyshnevskyy in January 2016.

He said Machinski was transferred to Nanaimo’s St. Michael the Archangel parish, but has since left the church.

Rossa said the St. Nicholas the Wonderworker parish is grateful to the Victoria Police Department for its perseverance in bringing charges. “We want to move on,” said Rossa.

At a bail hearing Thursday in Nanaimo, provincial court Judge Mayland McKimm said Machinski could be released on bail if he is able to make a financial deposit of $2,000 and has a $5,000 surety. The details of the hearing cannot be reported due to a publication ban.

The arson occurred as the Ukraine-Russia war was raging, initially prompting the Ukrainian Canadian Congress to urge police to investigate the arson as a hate crime.

In a Times Colonist interview after the arson, Vyshnevskyy said he believed it was a targeted attack, but had not received any threats and was unsure if the motivation was personal or related to the war in Ukraine.

On Thursday, he issued a statement thanking Victoria police and Crown prosecutors for their work in investigating the arson attack that destroyed the family’s home and “nearly our lives.”

“We deeply appreciate all the continuing efforts of the Police in protecting our family from potential threats and dangers following the Arson attack,” he said.

Vyshnevskyy said the family is grateful to members of the church and other Islanders “who have been so caring and concerned and helped us survive the effects of the attack and helped us get back on our feet again when we had nothing and were seriously hurt.”

“Yes, it has been a difficult year. We thank God for our healing both physical and emotional and spiritual. And of course we pray for the person who committed this horrible act that they too … find the healing and rehabilitation they are so in need of.”

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— With files from Louise Dickson