Vladimir Putin likes to characterize the Euromaidan movement and the current government of Ukraine as a band of fascists and raging anti-Semites; the facts tell a different story. Alone among the former Soviet republics, the “new” Ukraine fosters an atmosphere of diversity and religious tolerance in a region scarred by intolerance.
Russia’s heritage of autocracy, fervent nationalism and religious exclusivism provided fertile ground for persecution of minorities long before Soviet commissars appeared on the scene. State-sponsored pogroms drove more than two million Jews from Russian territories between 1880 and 1920. The Soviets simply added a new layer on an already sordid history.
Now, as the ugly face of oppression shows itself in eastern Ukraine, Ukrainians are standing up collectively to tell Mr. Putin, “No more.”
Even today, separatist thugs have barged into public services, despoiled sacred treasures, abducted clergy and brutally assassinated leaders of every communion. In response, the heads of the major confessions in Christianity, Judaism and Islam have banded together to appeal to their counterparts in the West — appeals that have gone largely unheeded — and visited the United States to enlist support.
The government of Ukraine wholeheartedly supports this “new” Ukraine. Just this week, the Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and the Mayor of Kiev, Vitali Klitschko, met with the leaders of the World Jewish Congress to discuss the best ways to fight anti-Semitism and plan a commemoration for the 75th anniversary of the Babi Yar massacre, a horrifying moment during World War II when the Nazis slaughtered more than 33,000 Jews on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Save Ukraine Now works to foster this same spirit of remembrance and unity to create a new future. Our kickoff events for Ukraine Survival – a campaign to fill shipping containers with emergency supplies for Ukrainian refugees – achieved participation by all the major confessions, an unprecedented accomplishment even in the “new” Ukraine. Participants included Bishop Metropolitan Epiphanius of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church; Bishop Ian Sobilo of the Roman Catholic Church; the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, Yaakov Dov Bleich; Bishop Valeriy Reshetinskiy representing evangelical churches of Ukraine; and the Mufti of Ukraine, Sheikh Ahmed Tamim. Video greetings were sent by Patriarch Filaret Denysenko of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Stanislav Szyrokoradiuk, Bishop of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia.
Moreover, as our Ukraine Survival campaign continues to gather momentum nationwide, we have joined forces with the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation to co-host a Forum on September 25th at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., and religious leaders will continue to play a major role. Expected guests will include Bishop Daniel (secular name: Volodymyr Zelinsky), Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the U.S.; Patriarch Filaret Denysenko, Head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyiv Patriarchate; Bishop Valeriy Reshetinksiy, Ukrainian Missionary Church; Father Victor Simon, Secretary General, Caritas of the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine; Metropolitan-Archbishop Stefan Soroka, Head of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia; Bishop Stanislav Szyrokoradiuk, Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine; and Sheikh Akhmed Tamim, Mufti of Ukraine, Head of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine.
The Russians, in their ham-handed fashion, have helped to forge harmony and cooperation among long-competing confessions and have united Ukrainians of all stripes in opposition to their efforts to build a neo-Soviet empire. This “new” Ukraine may represent the best hope for freedom and opportunity throughout the former Soviet Union.