CNS PHOTO | GLEB GARANICH, REUTERS
A woman cries as she and others appeal to Ukrainian police troops at the site of clashes with protesters in Kyiv Jan 24. Protests became violent in mid-January.
KYIV, UKRAINE – The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church appealed for calm as violence worsened between police and pro-European Union demonstrators.
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, said Jan. 21 that he was dismayed and saddened as violence escalated for the third consecutive day in and around Kyiv's Maidan – or Independence – Square.
"In these exceptional circumstances, I appeal to all faithful of the church, the Ukrainian people and all people of good will: In the name of God, stop the bloodshed. Violence was never the way to build a free and independent state," the archbishop said.
Protesters seeking stronger ties with Western Europe peacefully occupied the square in November after President Viktor Yanukovich's withdrawal from a landmark deal with the European Union.
Violent clashes erupted Jan. 19 after new laws criminalized "slandering" of government officials and the wearing of masks or helmets at demonstrations.
Shevchuk said bloodshed would never "reconcile hearts or bring a positive outcome," while "fear, aggression and anger" would be no help in determining Ukraine's future.
He also urged the Ukrainian government to "take responsibility for the future."
"Listen to your people, hear them, do not use violence against them or repressive mechanisms," the archbishop said.
"I appeal to society, to citizens, members of various NGOs, especially protesters standing on the Maidan. I beg you to go back to peaceful protests."
The package of laws adopted by the government also would ban unauthorized tents in public areas and prescribes jail terms for blockading public buildings. It took effect Jan. 22. United States and EU officials criticized the legislation.
After backing cross-party talks, Yanukovich warned Jan. 20 that the violence posed "a threat not only to Kyiv but to the whole of Ukraine." However, opposition leaders accused the government of paying "titushkos," or thugs, to fuel clashes as a pretext for imposing a state of emergency.
Shevchuk, who has supported the protests, said Jan. 13 that he received a letter from the Culture Ministry threatening to ban the Ukrainian Catholic Church because of a "systematic disregard for the law" by clergy with "alleged support from the Church authorities."