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Exclusive interview: Ukrainian Catholic leader on shepherding his flock in wartime

SVIATOSLAV

Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church

John Burger - published on 06/29/22 - updated on 07/11/22

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk discusses with Aleteia the challenges posed by the Russian invasion -- and the resolve to "stay with our people."

Four months after the invasion of Ukraine, much of the Eastern part of the country has come under the control of the Russian military, and the Ukrainian military is struggling to defend the last free areas of the Donbas region. Russia also has continued to hit central and western Ukraine with sporadic missile strikes, often involving civilian targets such as the mall in Kremenchuk, where an estimated 1,000 people were shopping on Monday. 

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who was a target for assassination soon after the February 24 invasion, told Aleteia that he fears the war will become a “frozen conflict” in which the underlying issues will not be resolved and in which Ukraine will be subject to ongoing, unpredictable attacks at any moment.

“If the conflict itself would be frozen, if Russia would not withdraw its troops and Ukraine would not receive control of the occupied zones, I fear that this conflict will be very quickly reactivated, because Russia will collect new soldiers, new resources and will attack us again,” Archbishop Shevchuk, who is major archbishop of Kyiv-Halych, said in an exclusive interview June 24. 

But, he said, the Church’s mission is to be with its people, no matter what happens. And it has already been living up to that calling. After the first bombs and missiles started hitting Kyiv in the pre-dawn hours of February 24, the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, next to Archbishop Shevchuk’s residence on the East side of the Dnipro River that cuts through the Ukrainian capital, opened up to people seeking shelter. For weeks, the crypt of the cathedral, which had been built by Shevchuk’s immediate predecessor, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, served as a bomb shelter for upwards of 500 people. The Church provided food, medicine and heating, as well as moral support for families whose lives had been upended. 

The Church also reached out, as much as it could under martial law and curfews in the capital, to those stuck in their apartment buildings, particularly the elderly, and to people taking refuge in other bomb shelters and places like the Kyiv metro system. Aware that people would not be able to get to their churches on Sunday, Shevchuk asked his clergy to go to these places to serve the Divine Liturgy and provide the sacraments.

He himself remained in Kyiv, though he was in an undisclosed location for some time. He immediately began issuing a daily video message to his flock, a practice that has continued until now, providing an update on the military situation and offering a brief reflection on the faith.

Days before the invasion, the Washington Post reported that the US had credible information showing that Moscow was compiling lists of Ukrainians “to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation,” purportedly to neutralize resistance to Russia’s takeover of the country. Archbishop Shevchuk’s name was on this “hit list.”

UKRAINE
His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk speaks with Aleteia reporter John Burger through Zoom June 24.

In this interview, Shevchuk details how the plot was to be carried out and how it was neutralized. Speaking from his residence through Zoom, he also discusses prospects for Ukraine as the war drags on, how the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is continuing to serve its people under a variety of conditions, what effect Pope Francis’ decision to consecrate Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary has had on society, and the significance of the European Union’s invitation to Ukraine to be a candidate for membership.

Would you give us an overview of your experience since the war started on February 24. How has the war changed your daily life and routine?

First of all, I have to say that the war in Ukraine started eight years ago, but it was mostly done in the Eastern part of Ukraine. On the 24th of February, the war hit us directly here in the capital of Ukraine, because Kyiv was the main direction, the main goal of the Russian troops. They moved down from Russia, from Belarus, through the Chernobyl zone and entered into the neighborhoods of Kyiv very quickly. So in five or six hours, the tanks were 20 kilometers from our cathedral. So basically, Kyiv was almost encircled by the Russian troops.

They were also trying to land big aircraft with paratroopers, and they were trying to conquer two places around Kyiv: Hostomel and Vasylkiv, just to trap us in a circle. The left bank of the Dnipro River, where the cathedral is located was almost entrapped, because they were moving on land from the site of the city of Brovary, that is, they were stopped almost 20 kilometers from the cathedral from the eastern side of the city of Kyiv. But they were also trying to enter the city from the north with specially trained troops to overtake the capital of Ukraine and destroy the central government. In such a way, they were planning to dominate Ukraine when the capital fell, so everything else would be under Russian control. 

But thanks be to God, they were stopped. All that time I was here; I was in Kyiv. The first reaction was a big shock, because you can never imagine how dramatically such a beautiful and large city can change. All bridges were closed, and there was almost zero possibility to move through the city. There were some days when it was absolutely forbidden to go out of your house. Immediately, grocery stores, pharmacies were closed, and for many of the people it was almost impossible to find food – in such a big city as Kyiv. 

But the biggest danger was from the sky, because Kyiv was bombed by aircraft, with missiles, with artillery. And people were supposed to be down in the air raid shelters. Our cathedral was immediately converted into such a shelter. Each day we protected almost 500 people in the crypt. We stayed together. Of course, we were aware that we are responsible for those people, for their lives. We started to organize special logistics to provide food, to provide medicine, to provide everything the people needed in order to stay there, because it was cold. February is winter in Ukraine. So it was not easy to find enough heat to keep so many people warm. 

We learned a lot. First, we learned how to discern many kinds of military sounds. Is it a plane or a helicopter? Is it cannon, missile or artillery? Are they shelling us, or is the Ukrainian army shelling them? So it was a very tough moment. But thanks be to God, we survived.

Was there any point at which you thought you might die?

It was clear from the very beginning, because Russians were present in Kyiv far ahead of the 24th of February. They were infiltrated even into the youth groups of the parish community at the cathedral — even in the choir. And suddenly they received an order to reactivate their presence, and they had very precise orders with a list of people to eliminate, with direct names, with direct addresses. And those assault groups were moving around the city very quickly. And I was told by the ambassadors [of foreign countries] that I was on the list. 

Why would you be on that list?

Well, I don’t know, but afterwards, when the Russians were expelled from the neighborhood of Kyiv, and we started to rediscover this mass grave [in Bucha] and listened to the witnesses of these atrocities, it was the same question: “Why? Why would Russians kill civilians?” We were told that they were asking people, “What kind of profession are you in?” If you were a school teacher, you would be executed. If you are a sportsman or an artist – painting icons, perhaps — you would be executed. So any kind of expression of national culture, the life of the Ukrainian people, anything that was an expression that Ukrainians are a different nation, were supposed to be annihilated, because they publicly declared that they had two goals to pursue in Ukraine – to denazify and to demilitarize Ukraine. To denazify Ukraine means to kill anything that reminds you of the Ukrainian nation or Ukrainian ethnicity as such. And of course, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is not only a symbol of the Ukrainian nation, but the Church for centuries was almost the only expression of the social life of the Ukrainian people, even if we were living in foreign countries, such as Russia, Poland, Austro-Hungarian state, and so on. And Russians knew very well that the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church specifically was considered as a soul of the Ukrainian nation. That’s why we would be among the first to be eliminated. 

Would that list include other bishops, civil leaders, such as people at the university?

Yes. I could not see those lists, but the ambassadors who returned to Kyiv after a few months reported to me very diplomatic information. But I know that on this list were representatives of other Churches and religious organizations, such as Metropolitan Epiphanius, who is the head of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and others. 

Everyone who would be considered a danger for the so-called Russian World, a danger to the state ideology, which states that the Ukrainian nation does not exist, that Ukrainians are Russians, but a little heretically oriented, everything that contains the name Ukraine should be annihilated, and Ukrainians are supposed to be reeducated. That was a whole plan, well done and even declared. And Russian troops were just executing the plan, according to the letter.

It was very interesting that in one of the media resources, called RIA Novosti, that manifest of the Russian plan of denazification of Ukraine was published, and [Yale] historian Timothy Snyder, who for years was studying the Holocaust in post-Soviet territories, immediately identified this as an explicit manifest of the Ukrainian genocide, made by the Russians. Then the ideology started to kill, methodically and with great cruelty. 

How was that plot that involved even infiltrators in the cathedral choir uncovered and neutralized?

In the very beginning, in the first days, our cathedral was attacked by several assault groups. Even some people who were orienting the attacks of Russian missiles were arrested in Kyiv. They would mark some buildings, especially government buildings, and also the churches, to orient the movement of Russian rockets. People of our neighborhood immediately self-organized into a so-called self-defense group. And each day they were arresting people who were trying to mark our cathedral, and also, they captured those groups, which were trying with arms to assault our residence and cathedral. 

That started very simply. When so many people were gathered in the crypt of our cathedral, I gave advice to the volunteers to not let anyone bring arms into the shelter, because it could simply be dangerous. They started asking everybody who wanted to enter to show their documents and show their bags, if there were no arms or explosives. And immediately we found people who were trying to enter with arms. Some would obey the orders, and some not. Some of them were using arms in order to attack us. So we asked those self-defense groups for help and protection. In such a way we were forced to organize special places to defend the cathedral. There was some shooting around the cathedral because those people with arms would not obey. But thanks be to God, nobody was injured. But each day some assault group was arrested. They would call this process “collecting mushrooms.” Each evening the volunteers and defenders were “collecting mushrooms” around the cathedral. They discovered who they are with documents, special maps, with those lists how to move around and specific orders. Even how they obey or disobey the orders was a sign that those people were trained how to behave if they were detained.

So it was very clear who was who. Some of them had very aggressive tattoos on their bodies, saying “Syria,” “Libya” — all the places when they had served before coming to Kyiv. And also in such a way some infiltrators of the youth group and patriarchal choir were arrested, with a clear sign that they are members of such assault groups. Again, the volunteers and members of these self-defense groups would take those “mushrooms” to the representative of the Ukrainian army and special services who were in charge of defending the capital of Ukraine. 

How did it make you feel when you discovered you were on this hitlist?

Well, in those first days and weeks we did not think about ourselves, because from the very beginning it was clear that you could be killed at any time. But all our attention was given to the people who were in the cathedral, to the people who stayed in their homes without the possibility to get food, with no electricity, no water, no heat. We were trying to help people be evacuated from the city of Kyiv. Our attention, especially in those first two weeks, was directed to this specific mission to save people’s lives.

You said in one of your daily video messages that on the first Sunday after the invasion began, pastors were going into the metro system and bomb shelters to serve the Divine Liturgy for the people. Can you tell me about any specific example of that, and what it was like?

Yes, because that specific Sunday it was forbidden to walk in the streets. Even now we have martial law and a curfew. But because of the movement of so many assault groups and saboteurs who were moving through the city, the very first Saturday and Sunday, there was a curfew. And of course we were not able to celebrate our Offices in the churches. So we tried to go to those places where people were located. When people cannot go to church, the Church should go to the people.

And the metro stations and such bomb shelters as we had beneath our cathedral were places where people were located. It was my appeal, especially to the priests in Kyiv, to descend to those places and be with the people and celebrate the Divine Liturgy there, with them and for them.

In the beginning it was very challenging because people were not expecting priests to come. And also it was not quite a holy place to put your [liturgical] things and pray solemnly. But people were not only surprised but very pleased with the presence of the priests. And many of them for the first time in their lives approached for Confession. They were asking us to stay, not only for an hour but to stay and be with the people, to preach, to confess. So it was a very unique pastoral moment. 

I think that we survived in Kyiv as a city, as a community because of common prayer, because of solidarity. In such circumstances, the presence of priests was a moment when fear was taken away. We looked around us with different eyes. We expelled our enemies, and not only the city of Kyiv survived, but all that region around Kyiv was liberated. 

As you’ve been going through this ordeal, are you thinking at all about when your Church was in the underground, from 1946-1989, because it was outlawed in the Soviet Union? 

Yes, of course. [But] it especially reminds me of the moment of Maidan — the so-called Revolution of Dignity [of 2013-2014] — because it was also a moment when all the Churches, not only our Church, went out to the streets, to the central square of Maidan, and stood with our people. That was a clear gesture, but also the public space where the Church is supposed to be present, to be with our people. And with everything we are doing right now, in different parts of Ukraine, according to the situation, we are staying with our people. Our military chaplains are staying with our soldiers on the front lines. Our monks are staying with our people even in the occupied territories – in great danger. We are staying with our people in the cities of Kharkiv, Odesa and Mykolayiv, and each day they are living the same thing Kyiv went through in the very beginning of the invasion. But they are there. So that’s the sacrament of presence, which is most important. Then we can administer our sacraments of the Church. 

But also, all humanitarian aid that we are able to distribute goes through the presence of our Church, because our priests, bishops, monks and nuns remain in their monasteries and parishes, so we were able to organize this network of the movement of humanitarian aid. And it is increasing each day.

His Beatitude Sviatoslav and other priests chant the Lord’s Prayer during a pastoral visit to a military hospital.

Also, we are able to be flexible, because very often the situation is changing. Perhaps those territories that were occupied are now liberated, and they have different needs than they had just a month before. We’re supposed to heal wounds. Many people are trying to go back home, because they were forced to leave their cities and villages. We are supposed to be with them and help them. It’s not easy to go back: your house might be filled with explosives. Many people died coming back home, opening their houses, even opening their cars, because Russians would leave traps to kill people even after their withdrawal. To console, to heal wounds, to serve those who are in extreme need is a mission of the Church, to be with her people.

Our government is warning that the upcoming winter could be the most difficult, most challenging winter in the whole history of Ukraine, because Russians are systematically destroying the infrastructures of the big cities, of the food stores, of the heating system. The cost of food is increasing each day, because often it is not easy – sometimes impossible – to find fuel, to find gasoline or diesel. The transportation of humanitarian aid is becoming more and more expensive. It means that in wintertime we’ll be freezing and lacking food supplies. Right now we are making special efforts to be prepared for the wintertime as much as we can. 

During the final years of the Soviet Union, you did your military service – as all men were obligated to do. And you served in Luhansk, which is now going through a big struggle, as Putin wants to take over the whole of the Donbas. As one who once served in the military there, what is your estimation of the situation and the possible outcome?

I have mixed feelings, because I had an experience of the Soviet mentality of how to treat their own soldiers and how to achieve military goals.

The first problem is that right now Russians are trying to fulfill political goals through military means. For example, they receive an order to conquer this city by a certain date, because it is Victory Day, the ninth of May. And nobody would count how many soldiers die, how many tanks are destroyed, what price the military is supposed to pay in order to fulfill those commands. That is, I would say, a bit absurd, to fulfill some political goal with military means. That is what we have with this whole Russian invasion. They announce some political proposal, and the slogan is “We will not count our costs.” Which means that with some irrational cruelty with their own soldiers, they will try to fulfill such a political order, such a command.

It’s a very sad principal. In such a way, the Red Army, the Russian Army, was fighting the Nazis in the Second World War. It was the policy of the famous Marshal [Georgy] Zhukov. He was explicitly ordering officers to not be merciful to soldiers, saying, “Women will give birth to more.” That is diabolical.

The second is, because very often we are looking for some diplomatic or political way to stop the war, many diplomats or politicians are trying to talk to Mr. Putin, to make some reasoning in the situation, to prevent further escalation of such a stupid conflict – because I think no one in the world of a sane mind would justify such a war. So they would foster a dialogue.

But from my experience in the Soviet army, this Asiatic way of treating your enemy is something which regards your opponent as very weak. If he would be trying to have a dialogue with you in order to prevent the violent physical assault, that was almost a rule in the Soviet army: if there is a conflict between two soldiers, and one of them is starting to talk to the other in order to prevent the violence, the other would consider him as a weak man, as not worth being his friend, as not worth it to be even his interlocutor. Not worthy to talk to you. Such a dialogue would be understood as an encouragement for this superman to assault you.

In such a situation, what was the policy? Before talking, you had to take a chair and hit your opponent over the head. After such a move, you will be best friends. He would appreciate you very much. He would treat you as a strong man. He would never use violence to assault you anymore. Even more, he would consider you a friend and someone he could trust in a difficult moment. He’s going to be your buddy forever. 

So maybe for European culture and the European mind that is something strange. But that was how to deal with conflict among Soviet soldiers. When I analyze how we’re trying to avoid any kind of escalation, how we’re trying to resolve existing conflicts, using diplomacy without becoming strong – even military – it was like an encouragement and invitation to our opponent to assault us. 

That is sad to say, because that is totally not Christian. We as Christians can never encourage any kind of violence or war. Pope Francis, I would say, very eloquently expressed his condemnation of such a war, saying war is always a loss for humanity. War is sacrilegious, especially the war going on right now in Ukraine. It is the biggest stupidity in modern history, and we have to do everything in order to stop the invader and have peace among nations.

What, in your view, is Putin’s ultimate goal? Why is he doing this, and what is his end game? 

I think he is trying to solve the inner problems of Russia with an external invasion and aggression. Right now there is a lot of discussion about the causes of such a war. According to our understanding and direct experience of the situation in Ukraine and Russia, in these post-Soviet countries, each nation has its own spiritual and social sicknesses, illnesses. Ukraine as well. Russia has its own. The history of Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union was the history of a humiliated society. They would very often feel anger towards the whole world that they are not able to be at the same stage of economy as other countries. Such envy started to evolve into a very specific ideology. We generally would call it the ideology of the Russian World. That ideology means extreme Russian nationalism — nationalism that has some sort of messianic vocation. It’s an ideology to try to “make Russia great again.”

How to make Russia great again? Not by developing their own greatness, but to humiliate others, to show that we are already great. But others simply are ignoring us. 

The political history of Mr. Putin was always linked with some sort of war. He became known in Russia because of the war in Chechnya. Everyone united in order to withstand an enemy. He was reelected as president because of the war with Georgia. And right now he is reappearing as a new emperor – Peter the Great – in order to collect all the lands of so-called historical Russia. And recently he declared that in his mind historical Russia is basically the territory of the Soviet Union. So in order to be in power, in order to appear a strong superman, a successful leader, he desperately needs to have an external enemy. And right now the collective West, especially the USA, is an excellent enemy, and he is the one who is saving the pride of his nation by standing with this world power, in order to make Russia great again. And that is an internal, I would say, mechanism that is constantly pushing this political system to provoke the world, to create new enemies and fight them in order to solve the inner problems of his country. And right now Ukraine is the victim of such a vision. 

But if Ukraine is subjugated by Russia, tomorrow he will find another victim to invade. Maybe this example would be very cruel, but the predator who is looking for the victims always will blame the victim, and he is himself the victim of very strong internal psychological pressure that is constantly pushing him to kill more and more. And he cannot stop until he is contained.

The war against Ukraine is unprovoked. It’s not the fault of NATO or the USA or Ukraine itself. The causes of such aggression are inside the illnesses of a post-Soviet Russian society.

So you believe that even if NATO was not expanding, even if it had not promised Ukraine that it could one day be a member, this would still be the situation. 

Yes. The smaller countries, such as Ukraine or Croatia or Bosnia-Herzegovina or Georgia are looking to become members of NATO because we are threatened by Russia. If Russia were not threatening aggression, no one would look for membership in NATO. Until now, Ukraine was a neutral country. We by ourselves decided to give up our nuclear weapons, which Ukraine received as a heritage after the fall of the Soviet Union. Russia, with the USA, [in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum] assured Ukraine of our integrity, our security. We changed our minds only after the invasion of Russia and the occupation of Donbas and Crimea. What are we supposed to do? We have to look for friends in order to survive, because compared with Russia we are small and weak. 

How long do you think this current situation could go on? How will Ukraine emerge from it?

I don’t know, sincerely. I fear that conflict at a certain moment can become a frozen conflict and in a very short period can be reactivated again. So maybe the ongoing and open military escalation will be at the moment when both sides – Ukrainian and Russian – would be exhausted. Then probably the time of diplomacy will come. But if the conflict itself would be frozen, if Russia would not withdraw its troops and Ukraine would not receive control of the occupied zones, I fear that this conflict will be very quickly reactivated, because Russia will collect new soldiers, new resources and will attack us again. 

So my prayer is that clear reason one day would provide new perspectives, not an inner instinct of aggression but common good. Well, we are praying for peace, for an end to the war. But peace always has to be connected with truth and justice. An unjust and inauthentic peace would be the imitation of peace. My fear is that the very notion of peace in today’s world can change its authentic meaning. Peace doesn’t mean the simple absence of war. Peace means harmony, the fullness of life. We look for victory over the very cause, which can cause new wars. That’s why I think it’s our duty to be authentic in our thoughts and to tell the truth, even if that truth can be painful for ourselves. Here in Ukraine we have to be very aware of what is causing the war and how to heal this open wound. 

The website Meduza, which is a Russian outlet but opposed to Putin’s regime, reported in early June that the Kremlin is planning to annex the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine and combine them into a single federal district within Russia. How would this affect the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s eparchies and parishes that are there? How would it affect religious freedom?

First of all, we would be very limited in our possibilities to act. That would be the best case [scenario].

But the next could be the elimination of our presence, because in history, each time Russia conquered territory of Ukraine, our Church was destroyed – not immediately but in the nearest perspective. Such a possibility or such a scenario is a scenario of the frozen conflict. I think that it would be only an intermediate stage, because they would move forward. And that is very dangerous, because people would continue to suffer – on both sides, occupied and reorganized in some sort of pseudo-statehood construction and in the territory controlled by the Ukrainian state. It would be only a question of time when the next bite of the territory of Ukraine would be taken. 

Are you thinking of any kinds of preparations/contingency plans as a Church, especially in the event of a Russian takeover of Ukraine or part of Ukraine?

Our plan is to stay, to be with our people. And then we will see. Because it was our history – a history of martyrdom and resurrection. And that is maybe our mission and duty.  

Would you reflect a little on what efforts Pope Francis has been making in regard to the war in Ukraine. How often are you in touch with him? Could you reflect on the exchange of insights: things you have learned from him, and perhaps things he has learned from what you have told him. 

Yes, we are in touch with him often. On the second day of the war he called me and promised that he would be doing everything he can in order to stop the war. The Holy Father himself is very empathetic with the suffering of the people of Ukraine. But he is very delicate with his expressions, because he believes that through dialogue it is possible to solve such difficult issues. The Holy See is always the place of meeting and dialogue, not the place of military plans. It is what he himself and his collaborators of the Secretary of State are trying to do. 

I have to say that the Holy Father is well informed about what is going on in Ukraine. And we are working on the possibility for him to visit us in Ukraine. But now he is physically not so well. He suffers because of his knees, and for him right now to travel is not an easy task. But he has expressed his willingness to come and visit us in Ukraine. 

The Holy Father is very strong in his gestures, and his gesture of visiting Ukraine would be a message itself – a message of support, a message of hope for us.

Of course, maybe Ukrainians would be very pleased if he would make some strong political statement, condemning Mr. Putin, condemning Patriarch Kirill [of the Russian Orthodox Church], and condemning the ideology of the Russian World. But the policy of the Holy See is not condemning but trying to promote an alternative to the war, which is reasoning, dialogue. 

He suffers a lot that the efforts he has been undertaking until now have not been successful. He tried to contact President Putin. He spoke with Patriarch Kirill in a video conference. But with no success. Maybe he thought that it would be a lot easier to stop the Russian aggression through some sort of mediation. But until now it is quite difficult.

The Holy Father is trying to assist us with any kind of humanitarian help. Caritas Internationalis and many bishops’ conferences, especially in Europe but also in the US, are helping us on different levels, visiting us in Ukraine. 

Six million refugees have already left Ukraine. Most of them are staying in Europe. European nations are receiving our refugees with an open heart, and the Holy Father is encouraging them and thanking them for that. Some refugees are going to the USA and Canada. Such a sensitivity of the Holy Father for the refugees: for decades, he has been trying to educate the nations to be friendly and open to them. Right now it’s vital for our people. 

We expect him to visit Ukraine in the nearest future. 

Please share your thoughts about the Pope’s decision to consecrate Ukraine and Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. How did this gesture resonate with Ukrainians?

I have to say that politically it was a big question, because any time Ukraine and Russia are brought together it creates some strong reaction, especially among those who don’t go to church. But among Catholics, among believers, especially among those who have a special, even mystical, perception of the apparition of Fatima, that act of consecration was really profoundly lived and very well received. For three months now, we have had a pilgrimage statue from Fatima, and this statue is going from parish to parish. Thousands of people, day and night, are praying. So it’s a big spiritual movement that started with that moment. 

Many people are really grateful to the Holy Father for this act [of consecration]. And people really believe that we as Ukraine, as a nation, are in a special divine plan. There is some divine plan on Russia, but also on Ukraine. In those apparitions at Fatima, the word Ukraine was not pronounced – maybe because at that time the majority of the territory of Ukraine was included in the Russian state. But when the Holy Father mentioned Ukraine as well as a subject of this divine providence, for people of Ukraine who really believe in God, who really are inside this mystical sensitivity, it was something very strong. They received a very big consolation and hope. 

What do you say to those, such as former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who argue that Ukraine should be willing to concede certain territory in order to facilitate a peace deal?

We consider Ukraine, Ukrainian territory, as an integral part of the body of the Ukrainian nation. You cannot negotiate your hands or your legs, because it’s a part of your person. You cannot say “In order for the predator to stop, cut off your hand and give it to him. Just a hand, and he will stop!” No, that is naive, and I would say a very dangerous statement, because at that level we have to follow the principles of international law. And if it’s licit, possible for a big country to invade a small country and to cut some part of the territory, just because they want it, breaking the law of the international mode of coexistence of the nations, I think that will cause big troubles in the whole world. If we break that fundamental principle of the peaceful coexistence of nations, then you will encourage all kinds of criminals to do the same. So be careful. 

Finally, Your Beatitude, what are your thoughts about the European Union’s decision to grant candidate status to Ukraine?

It was a historical event very important for free Ukraine. We were very pleased because of this openness of the European Union, but that is only the beginning. It’s not a marriage itself, but only the engagement. I hope we will survive until the marriage – as a state, as a nation. And maybe I would repeat the words of St. Thomas: “I will believe only after I touch.” Very often such political decisions can be initiated but are never completed.

I hope that one day we will fully join as a member of the European Union because it is a matter of the identity of Europe and security of Ukraine. We need that membership because first of all we are a European nation, and secondly right now we are dying for European values, for those values which many countries in the West have already forgotten.

Thirdly, Ukraine will reactivate the European Union as such, bring a new vibrancy, will show that the EU is not only about the economy but also about principles. The most important principle is human dignity. That will be a very important contribution of Ukraine for the European Union.

My feeling is that right now for its credibility the EU as a project of peace building needs Ukraine more than Ukraine needs the EU. But nevertheless, we see that our future is in that family of European nations. 

Tags:
Pope FrancisRussiaUkraine
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