UKRAINE CRISIS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Ukrainian church leaders urge Putin to back down
, March 29, 2014
Leaders of the largest churches and religious organisations in Ukraine have written to the people of both Ukraine and Russia, urging President Vladimir Putin to withdraw Russian military forces from Ukraine, and to respect the territorial integrity of the country.
Rabbi Jacob Dov Bleich
with Patriarch Filaret Denysenko
At the time of writing, Russian military forces had taken control of the Crimea region of Ukraine, and were threatening to do the same in eastern Ukraine which borders Russia.
Crimea has had a majority Russian population since the Stalin era, when the original inhabitants, the Crimean Tatars, were deported to Siberia in the 1940s, and Stalin brought Russians in to occupy the area.
The religious leaders’ letter is particularly significant because Ukrainians are people of deep faith, and it is co-signed by religious leaders from both east and west of the country.
The joint letter was co-signed by the following church leaders:
• Patriarch Filaret Denysenko, primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate;
• Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church;
• Viacheslav Nesteruk, chairman of the Evangelical Baptist Union of Ukraine;
• Senior Bishop Mykhailo Panochko, the Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith of Ukraine;
• Victor Alekseenko, head of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ukraine;
• Senior Bishop Leonid Padun, the Ukrainian Christian Evangelical Church;
• Bishop Vyacheslav Horpynchuk, Ukrainian Lutheran Church; and
• Rabbi Jacob Dov Bleich, the Chief Rabbi of Kyiv and Ukraine and spokesman for United Jewish Religious Organisations in Ukraine.
In their letter, the religious leaders sought to correct misunderstandings of alleged threats to Russian speakers in Ukraine.
In the part of their joint letter written to the Ukrainian people, they said, “In this difficult time when military units of the Russian Federation, violating international and bilateral agreements, entered the sovereign territory of Ukraine, and the Russian Parliament has given the President of Russia permission to deploy Russian troops in Ukraine — we first of all call all of you, and all people of good will, to have solidarity with us and to pray for Ukraine and the Ukrainian nation.”
They added: “We call on the Russian authorities to come to their senses and stop their aggression against Ukraine, and immediately pull out Russian troops from Ukrainian territory.
“All the responsibility before God and mankind for irreparable consequences fully falls on the leadership of Russia.
“There is no oppression of any language, nation or denomination in our country. Therefore we witness that all the efforts of Russian propaganda to represent the events in Ukraine as a ‘fascist coup d’état’ and ‘extremists’ victory’ do not correspond to reality, absolutely.”
Speaking directly to the Russian people, they said, “The Ukrainian people have only friendly, fraternal feelings toward the Russian people. Do not believe the propaganda that inflames hostility between us.
“We want and we will continue to build friendly and fraternal relations with Russia, but only as a sovereign and independent state.”
They also appealed to the West to protect Ukraine.
Separately, the section of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church which operates under the authority of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has appealed to the Russian Patriarch to intervene to protect Ukraine.
Metropolitan Onufry sent a letter to Patriarch Kirill in which he urged him “to do everything possible not to permit bloodshed on the territory of Ukraine”.
The appeal was reported on the official website of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church/Moscow Patriarchate.
Metropolitan Onufry wrote: “Today Ukraine is experiencing what is without exaggeration the most difficult moment in its modern history. After a three-months-long social and political crisis, and bloody clashes in the very centre of Kyiv and the deaths of dozens of people, we face yet another no less horrible trial.
“On March 1, from the lips of officials of the Russian federation resounded statements about a possible invasion of Ukraine by border troops of the Russian armed forces. If this happens, the Ukrainian and Russian peoples will be engaged in a clash that will have catastrophic consequences for our countries.”
The Metropolitan also wrote to Russia’s President Putin. He said: “Today our motherland that has suffered much, which we all equally love and wish her peace and prosperity, is facing one of its most serious challenges in all her history.
“After the lengthy internal political crisis and the deaths of people, a serious occasion for concern has been created by the grant of … the right to use the armed forces of Russia on the territory of Ukraine.
“Very little separates us from slipping into the abyss from which it will take decades to exit.”
If the threat of occupation of Ukraine passes, it will be due in large measure to the intervention of Ukraine’s religious leaders.