Patriarch Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church told the Voice of America program Chas Time Feb. 10 that the conflict will affect every American “sooner or later.”
“It is about the future of democracy in Europe,” he said.
He said the U.S. and Ukraine need to prepare a “proactive policy.” Referring to Russia, he warned of the danger of “aggression, violence and interference from our northern neighbor.”
The Ukraine 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 at times occupied government buildings in Kiev. The largest protests have filled the capital’s Independence Square with more than 100,000 people.
Some protesters have reportedly been beaten by police, while some young men have thrown fireworks and petrol bombs at police. Several protesters have been reported killed in the clashes, while hundreds have been injured. Several police have also been allegedly killed.
The conflict has become an international flashpoint, more than 20 years after the collapse of the communist Soviet Union ended the longstanding tensions with the U.S. and Western Europe known as the Cold War and gave independence to Ukraine and several other former Soviet republics.
Patriarch Sviatoslav has warned of a possible “Cold War” several times, including in his interview with The Blaze after the Feb. 6 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.
He told The Blaze that the Ukrainian people’s primary concern is the possibility of “some sort of restoration of the former Soviet Union.”
The patriarch noted that international agreements were intended to protect Ukraine, including a 1994 trilateral agreement. The U.S. gave security assurances to Ukraine after it transferred all its nuclear weapons to Russia for elimination.
He said the U.S. acted “to guarantee the integrity of our territory and our independence.”
“It is why we do expect the United States will fulfill its duty to help us remain a free and independent country,” Patriarch Sviatoslav said.
The patriarch added that an independent, free Ukraine can “guarantee democracy not only in our country” but can help spread those values to all of Eastern Europe’s post-Soviet countries.
He characterized the protests as “the revolution of dignity.”
Many of the iconic images of the protests show priests settled between the protesters and riot police.
The patriarch said the priests have prayed for both sides.
“God is supposed to be with those who are persecuted, who are beaten, who are left without consideration,” he told The Blaze.
“It is why from the very beginning our priests were with our people in the middle of that square,” he said, adding that the priests’ presence have kept the protests peaceful “in many cases.”
He noted that Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim clergy also played a role in keeping the protests peaceful.
He said their feeling is that Ukrainians are “willing to solve this problem in a peaceful way.”
“We realize that the dignity of a person and personal liberties don’t come from a constitution, a state law, a ruler, but from God,” the patriarch said. “God created us in his own image and likeness as free men and free women. So we are expecting that United States will support freedom and democracy in Ukraine.”
The protests in part reflect divisions within the country.
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.
The opposition movement has the backing of key Western powers and is advocating constitutional changes they say would re-balance power away from the presidency, Reuters reports. They have turned down offers of government posts and are seeking to lead a government independent from President Yanukovych.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic patriarch has said that if the U.S. and Europe abandon Ukraine during its intense political conflict, “humanity may well be on the verge of a new Cold War.”