Marking the fifth anniversary of Russia’s invasion of eastern Ukraine, the leader of the country’s Greek Catholic Church said Tuesday that while his people are suffering as a result, the world needs to shift from seeing Ukraine as a problem to seeing it as a solution.
“You hear the word ‘Ukraine,’ and you immediately think of problems … humanitarian, socio-political, ecumenical, diplomatic, military, the list goes on,” said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Patriarch of the Greek Catholic Church, the largest of the Eastern churches in communion with Rome, Crux reports.
Yet, he said, “we’re convinced that in our people, our country, things are fermenting that are important for all of you, for the whole world.”
In effect, Shevchuk said, Ukraine is striving to pass from a post-Soviet society marked by endemic corruption and violence to an “authentic, modern democracy” rooted in “European values.”
That promise came with a warning: “The war in Ukraine is not a Ukrainian war,” he said. “It’s a European war, a war in Europe. Sooner or later, it will knock on your doors … it has global repercussions.”
The Greek Catholic leader then challenged what he called two “great lies” and forms of “disinformation” about the conflict, both of which, he implied, are fostered by Russia.
The first is any reference to the violence in Ukraine as a “fratricidal war,” as if one segment of Ukrainian society is fighting another. Shevchuk said if that were true, Russia wouldn’t have more tanks in eastern Ukraine right now than are owned by all EU countries combined.
He insisted that the Greek Catholic Church has parishes in the territory occupied by Russia, and he said the people there “don’t want a war with Ukraine. The feel like prisoners, hostages, of the powerful of this world.”
The second “great lie” Shevchuk strove to debunk is the notion that this is a war between Ukraine and Russia, meaning an ethnic war between two different peoples.
“Most [Ukrainian] soldiers who die every day speak Russian,” he said, and told the story of a Russian-speaking village where residents turned out to resist the arrival of Russian tanks.
“A citizen who has tasted liberty, whether he speaks Russian, or Hungarian, or Polish or Ukrainian,” Shevchuk said, “will defend this liberty.”
Instead, Shevchuk said, this is a war between two different “ways of seeing the future,” between a “return to the Soviet past” and “authentic democracy and resistance to outside despotism.”
Today, Shevchuk said, one major challenge for civil society is to resist the appeal of “populisms,” which he said offer “quasi-magical solutions to all problems.” Noting that at one point 44 candidates were running for the Ukrainian presidency in national elections this year, he said the Greek Catholic Church is urging citizens to resist anyone posturing as a “political messiah” and justifying the use of violence for political ends.