A leading Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishop has denounced the “brutality” of government crackdowns on protests in the Ukraine, while urging protestors not to take up arms.
“The country, in somewhat traumatic ways, is trying to break the bonds of the past and the bonds of fear and subjugation by declaring the God-given dignity of every human being,” said Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Eparchy of France, Belgium and Luxembourg.
“Events in the last few months and days have been a pilgrimage in our battle for dignity,” he added.
Bishop Gudziak, the president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, said the country has changed “dramatically” in the past two months.
“The brutality of the special forces is rallying more and more of the population in an active role in this bid for dignity,” he told Aid to the Church in Need Jan. 27.
He said the Ukrainian government’s respect for human rights has been “neglected” and in some cases “absent.”
“Protestors have been shot and others have been beaten – and the perpetrators of violence have not been brought to justice.”
The protests first began after the government’s Nov. 21 announcement that it would not sign a major economic partnership agreement with the European Union, in favor of a $15 billion bailout agreement with Russia. Since then, protesters have occupied government buildings in Kiev. At times they have filled the capital’s Independence Square with more than 100,000 people.
Some protesters have been beaten by police, while some young men have thrown fireworks and petrol bombs at police. Several protesters have been killed in the clashes, while hundreds have been injured. Several police have also been killed.
Ukrainians in the Kiev area and in western Ukraine tend to favor the European Union, while those in the Russian-speaking east tend to have an affinity for Russia. However, protests have begun to spread to the east, where President Viktor Yanukovych’s strongest support is based.
On Jan. 28, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his cabinet resigned in hopes of advancing a compromise. Parliament also voted overwhelmingly to annul controversial anti-protest laws, the BBC reports.
Bishop Gudziak, who was born in the United States, described the protests as prayerful and non-violent. The demonstrations begin with prayers and prayers sometimes take place hourly. Priests also walk among the crowds and hear confessions.
“It is hard to imagine a more prayerful protest in 21st century Europe,” he said.
“The people are not out on the streets to campaign for a party or candidate – they are gathering around principles.”
The bishop again called on the government to listen to the protestors’ demands and to denounce the use of violence. He also appealed for dialogue between the government and the various demonstrating groups.
“Dialogue is very difficult and has a very arduous methodology but there are no better alternatives,” he said, adding that effective dialogue requires “international mediation.”
He voiced hope that “reason and ethical principles will prevail and that authetnic dialogue will begin.”
Several other Catholic leaders have responded to the demonstrations.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, on Jan. 21 urged both the government and the protestors to act peacefully.