March 17, 2014
Why did thousands of unprotected Ukrainian protesters remain in Independence Square on Feb. 20 as sniper fire rained down on them from above? Why did they not run for cover as did the foreign journalists who were reporting on the protests?
Think first of the Holodomor of 1932-33, the forced starvation of millions of people suffering under Soviet oppression. Think of the attempted annihilation following the Second World War of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, a body most determined to stand for Ukrainian national identity, cultural expression and freedom. Think of the imprisonment and exile of poet Taras Shevchenko and numerous other 19th-century Ukrainian artists who passionately wrote against the repression of Ukrainians by the tsar and in favour of Ukrainian national identity.
All of that and much more must have been in the back – or front – of the minds of those who stood up so heroically to the sniper fire in Independence Square. The next day, the elected dictator Viktor Yanukovych went into hiding.
Ukraine is a nation that has suffered great repression as well as a great yearning for national sovereignty from its Russian overlords. Now that it has freedom – even if not prosperity – its people will not back down.
"We must stand up for our country, to be ready – if necessary – to sacrifice our lives in order to protect the sovereign, free, independent and unified state," says Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
This is heroic leadership from a Church leader who knows well the price of true freedom that can only come from non-violent resistance.
With Russian troops on its borders and occupying Crimea, Ukraine is at a key point in its history. It can be cast back into servitude, collapse into civil war or perhaps take a decisive step toward lasting independence and democracy.
Should Russia invade the country, it would define itself as a pariah nation, something that would be extremely negative both for itself and for global security.
The way forward calls, first, for a diplomatic solution that would guarantee Ukraine's territorial integrity and the human rights of all who live within its borders. That would involve a high level of commitment to peace and human dignity from all parties concerned, a commitment that is sadly not always evident.
Second, also required is the assertion of the Christian fervour of Ukraine's people. The forces of evil in the world generally, and in this situation in particular, are so strong that no reconciliation can occur without the grace of God. Few modern diplomats would admit as much, but when the powers of the world act without the assistance of the power of God, then a third set of powers will intervene and bring chaos.
We hope and pray for justice and freedom for Ukraine. Prayer, it should be said, must come first.
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