DR URZULA Glienecke fought for democracy behind the Iron Curtain as a member of an undergound Christian group.

Now she's become a Church of Scotland chaplain after a journey across Europe.

Glienecke's "family of rebels" risked being sent to Siberia for practicing their faith in the Soviet Union.

The communist state was officially atheist and Glienecke went underground when she joined a faith group practicing from a cellar in her home country Latvia.

As a teenager, she saw churches turned into hospitals for wounded protestors as the USSR collapsed.

Later the student activist moved to Norway, Germany, Ireland and Spain pursuing a future within the church after a change in the Lutheran Church she'd known saw women excluded from ordination.

The National:

Now she's been inducted as an associate chaplain at Edinburgh University. Her ordination took place at historic Greyfriars Kirk on Tuesday evening.

Glienecke said: "I still can't quite believe it."

During her childhood, dissidents, including Christians, were at risk of deportation to camps in Siberia. From the late 80s, Christians in Latvia played an important role in the pro-democracy movement, including taking part in the 'Baltic Chain', a peaceful political demonstration that involved 2million people linking arms across Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

She said: "We knew it was very dangerous, but we wanted freedom to believe, we wanted to communicate with the world.

"I don't know a single Baltic family who didn't lose a family member either due to being deported to Siberia or having to escape to the West, especially in the early days of the Soviet occupation.

"I grew up in a in family of rebels. My grandmother played the organ for more than 30 years for the Lutheran Church around Latvia in the years when it was dangerous to do so.

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"When I was 14 I was interested to know what faith was about so I found an underground church group, which was literally underground in the cellar of a church.

"There is a lot of pain and a lot of violence that I can remember my own family faced growing up in this oppressive system, especially being connected to the church."

On the makeshift hospitals set up in Riga as the Soviet Union crumbled, Gliecke remembers: "We had barricades around all of the communication centres and the new government and we were praying and singing and keeping warm around fires.

"There were cattle trains at the border so if we lost we would be sent to Siberia to work camps as had happened before."

Describing her new role as a "joy", she went on: "Everybody is welcome to come if they want a listening ear which is non-judgemental.

"Most students who have made an appointment to talk are not connected to church — a lot are international and are people looking for someone open-minded who will listen to them and be there for them.

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"As part of the role I can bring in the things that are most important to me, such as working for social justice — against racism, against poverty, promoting the environment, supporting LQBTQ+ people and working with people of other faiths."