The three months of protests in Kyiv’s Maidan Square were a demonstration of Ukrainians’ moving beyond fear to find their freedom and founding a new society, a philosopher from the country’s east has reflected.
“Freedom is needed in order to defend human dignity,” Aleksandr Filonenko, an associate professor of the philosophy of science at the University of Kharkiv, told CNA April 8.
“We are not simply talking about the freedom of choice or the freedom of taking any decision -- we are above all talking about the freedom from fear.”
He said that “churches had an important role in Maidan because people have found the courage to go beyond fear and found their freedom, thanks to the experience of peaceful protest and of communal prayer.”
“Maidan brought a re-discovery of the value of our identity,” Filonenko continued. “Maidan started as a protest against the destruction of the dignity of the Ukrainian people operated by a power who tried to solve the problem of security with strength.”
Later, “people discovered that they needed to find their identity in order to defend their dignity, and, after three months of peaceful demonstration, they understood that it was pivotal not only to protest, but to find out for which values they were standing. And they understood these were European values.”
“Maidan evidently showed a civil society, which has been missing for several years in the post-Soviet countries.”
“Maidan gave rise to a new society, and now this society will need many years to be educated, to develop and to reinforce itself.”
With time, Ukraine must be “open to the world,” he said: and this does not mean merely the will to join Europe.
“We need a new country. It is interesting that Ukraine is going to join Europe, on the basis of European values,” Filonenko said.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Archeparchy of Kyiv-Halyc similarly explained in a press briefing held at Vatican Radio March 4 that “the central issue of all the discussion and the protests in Ukraine is about the European identity of the Ukrainian people.”
Filonenko also pointed out that “we should understand where Russia will be situated in the world order. Russia is in conflict with the whole world, and it is necessary to understand and redefine economic and social agreements with it. It is not just a problem of the relation between the Russia and Ukraine: all the world must confront with this.”
Filonenko’s home, Kharkiv, is a city which in 1989 had a population of 50 percent Ukrainians and 44 percent Russians. It is 25 miles from the Russian border, and has seen tensions in recent days.
Pro-Russian activists seized government buildings in the city April 6, according to the BBC – as they did in other eastern Ukrainian cities such as Luhansk and Donetsk. Kharkiv’s government building was retaken by Ukrainian authorities two days later.
Russia annexed Crimea, a largely ethnic Russian peninsula of Ukraine, March 18, following weeks of pro-Russian demonstrations in the territory.
This followed the Feb. 21 flight of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, who was replaced two days later by Oleksander Turchynov.
The Church in Crimea is experiencing persecution since the region’s annexation by Russia.
“We are cut off from the rest of the country,” Bishop Jacek Pyl, an auxiliary of the Diocese of Odesa-Simferopol, told Aid to the Church in Need April 9. “We communicate only by telephone and email; even aid packages are blocked at the border.”
Bishop Pyl said that “we try to respond to the emergency by donating food and medicine, with particular attention to families.”
“We also help the Greek Catholic faithful, who participate in our liturgical celebrations because all their priests have left Crimea.”
Of the five Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests who had been serving the Crimean exarchate, three were kidnapped by pro-Russian forces in mid-March. They were all released, and are reportedly now safe.
Latin-rite priests, of the Odesa-Simferopol diocese, remain in Crimea for now, though its “unclear for how long,” according to Aid to the Church in Need, which said that the Russian government administering Crimea will require visas of Ukrainians not from the territory.
Many of the religious serving in the Odesa-Simferopol diocese are of Polish nationality, and have long-term work permits, issued by the Kyiv government, rather than visas.
Bishop Pyl also lamented the halt of negotiations for the restitution of Catholic property seized during the Soviet era.
“Sevastopol’s church, which was transformed into a theater under communism, seemed close to returning to the Church, yet now, past efforts are of no value … we started from zero many times, and are ready to do it again.”
The Crimean crisis has brought Christians of different Churches closer together.
Bishop Pyl urged Latin Catholics “not to allow the brotherhood among the peoples of the peninsula break.”
According to Aid to the Church in Need, “many Orthodox priests of the Kyiv patriarchate have left Crimea for fear that Moscow intends to encompass their Church or even to prohibit their presence on the peninsula.”
The Orthodox Church in Ukraine is largely divided between two bodies: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, which is under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Aid to the Church in Need reported that “deprived of some of their own clerics, Christians of the Ukrainian Church have preferred to turn to the Catholic Church rather than that of Russia.”
Bishop Pyl said that “their faithful have expressed the desire to pray with us and I consented immediately. We are all sons of one God.”
He concluded that the Church will survive in Crimea only with prayer and the theological virtues.
“Faith allows us to regard what has happened through the prism of the providence of God; with hope we turn our gaze to the future, because we know that God is close to us in this difficult time; and charity, which turns us to God and to our brethren, helps us to not cultivate hatred in our hearts.”