Prayer and Protest

From the front lines, a bishop describes the uprising in Ukraine

by Borys Gudziak

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Last winter, the streets of downtown Kiev became the center of a swirling political and spiritual storm, as thousands of citizens — including priests and bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox and Catholic churches — protested the actions of the government. The protests led to violence and death, with some even being hailed as martyrs. One of those at the front lines was Bishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic eparchy in Paris who is also president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv and head of the church’s Department of External Church Relations. ONE asked him to share with us what he saw and experienced — and to reflect on his hopes for the future of Ukraine.

Events are moving rapidly in Ukraine. The Ukrainian nation has matured considerably in the last half year, leaving behind entrenched fear and moving toward claiming its God-given dignity. Journalists covering the recent events in Ukraine who focus on the East-West politics often miss this feature of the Ukrainian revolution: The movement that has mobilized millions has at its foundation the fundamental desire for people to live in dignity, claiming it and protecting it, even at the ultimate price: one’s own life.

This “Maidan movement” — which began in November 2013 in the center of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev as a drive to support an agreement with the European Union — took on a new meaning. Borrowed from Arabic, the Ukrainian word maidan means much more than “square.” Rather, maidan is akin to agora in ancient Greek — a place of encounter, discussion and community decision-making. Together, Ukrainians gathered in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) grasping for something transcendental — in fact, for something fundamentally spiritual.

Youth and students; the dispossessed; the middle class; city dwellers and villagers; Orthodox Christians, Greek and Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims; and a broad range of civic institutions all came together and said: “Enough! All must be equal before the law. Corruption needs to be overcome. Violence by the government cannot be tolerated!” This was done fearlessly.

The freedom from fear could be seen in the eyes of the young men in ski helmets holding wooden shields who ran into a shower of snipers’ bullets this past 20 February. More than a thousand were injured and a hundred killed. These martyrs — publicly acclaimed as the “Heavenly Hundred” — are a moving symbol of the shift from fear to dignity in today’s Ukraine and how a manifestation of the human spirit ultimately became a revolution of democratic principles.

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