Talk in Bankovaya: why President met with religious leaders

Positions of Ukrainian faiths regarding peace vary. Photo: UOJ

Before the “Normandy Summit”, at which crucial decisions to end the war in the Donbass can be taken, the President sought support from religious leaders.

On December 4, 2019, the President met with representatives of Churches and religious organizations of Ukraine. Official information about this event was published on the President’s website, which reported that this event was held in the run-up to the "Norman Four" meeting in Paris on December 9, 2019. As you know, this will be the first international negotiations of Vladimir Zelensky of such a high level and on such a complex issue. And our President wants to seek the widest possible support in these negotiations.

V. Zelensky meeting with religious leaders. Photo:

Vladimir Zelensky was elected as president of peace. He won support of voters who believed his promises to stop the war. But once being at the pinnacle of power, V. Zelensky discovered that he was surrounded by the party of war. This party binds the President’s hand and foot, it does not want peace, it does not want the rebellious DPR and LPR to return to the state and legal field of Ukraine.

Yes, this party lacks support in society. Its members are few in number but so active and radical that they have the ability to dictate their will to both the President and the entire Ukrainian society.

True, one can ask a question: how sincere is V. Zelensky himself in his desire for peace? To answer it, let’s recollect how His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry characterised V. Zelensky shortly after the inauguration: “I think that the words he spoke were not a masquerade, and that was what his soul suggested and is the main desire of his presidency: this is the end of the war, this is the desire to improve people’s living conditions in our country, to unite the state, not to divide on any grounds.”

And now the President is seeking support from religious leaders of the key Ukrainian denominations when he is openly threatened with the Maidan, i.e. forcible removal from office if he takes real steps to establish peace at the Normandy Summit. Let us analyze the words that were said at this meeting and see who is for and against peace in our country.

The President’s website reports that at the beginning of the meeting V. Zelensky "thanked the hierarchs for the joint appeal to the residents of the temporarily occupied territories ...". This refers to the video message that was published by the newly elected President on May 13, 2019. It called for peace and understanding.

The appeal involved: “Honorary Patriarch” Filaret Denisenko, His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the Mufti of the Religious Administration of Muslims of Ukraine “Ummah” Sheikh Said Ismagilov, the Mufti of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Crimea Ayder Rustemov, Mufti Akhmed Tamim, the Chief Rabbi of Odessa and Southern Ukraine Abraham Wolf, the Chief Rabbi of Dnipro and the Dnepropetrovsk region Shmuel Kaminetsky, the Chief Rabbi of Kharkov and the east of Ukraine Moishe Moskovich, the Chief Rabbi of Kiev Moshe Reuven Azman and the Chief Rabbi of Donbass Pinkhas Vishetsky. In principle, all those who were at the meeting with the President on December 4. And here is one very important detail: the only one who refused to participate in the call for peace in the Donbass was the head of the OCU Epiphany Dumenko. He refused because the fragment of the text proposed to him contained words about the need to stop speaking in the language of cannons and guns. Epiphany was worried that such words of his could be perceived as a call for negotiations with representatives of unrecognized republics.

 What did Epiphany say to the President this time?

"Churches have great potential that should be used in the peace initiatives that you are now taking to end this terrible war. We pray for peace – for a fair peace in Ukraine. <...> Sometimes they (the people of Ukraine – Ed.) do not understand, we should raise their awareness, persuade. Churches can carry out this mission – to provide true information. For example, they often ask how you feel about the land market, the settlement of the situation in the Donbass, etc.," Epiphany Dumenko said.

In these words, you can find two or even three messages.

First, Epiphany does not allow the thought of peace in Ukraine. He needs a "fair peace". What it is like is can be assumed from the statements of those politicians and national radicals who the religious structure of Epiphany Dumenko is based on.

For example, here are the words from the annual address to the Verkhovna Rada of former President Petro Poroshenko of 20 September 2018: "Peace is a beautiful and attractive package, in which you can put everything you want. Therefore, we must be vigilant. Do not forget that the enemy did not come here to get the Crimea or Donbass, the enemy came here to get the whole Ukraine. Because without Ukraine, the empire is impossible.”

The head of the national radical organization “Azov” put it bluntly: "We need peace on our terms". (from the interview of 24.09.2018) In other words, "fair peace" is "war to the end". Whether or not this position is true is a separate issue, but the fact remains that during the presidential elections the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian citizens voted against such a "fair peace", they voted for peace.

Secondly,  Epiphany opened the President's eyes to the fact that the people of Ukraine are incomprehensible and unconscious. They do not understand their happiness, they need to be interpreted everything. And religious organizations may well perform this function.

And this immediately leads to the third message: Epiphany offered the President the services of his religious structure to carry the policy of the authorities into masses. Church analysts, based on the statements of the OCU founders, have repeatedly written that this organization was originally conceived as one of the pillars of the Ukrainian statehood, which should serve the interests of the state and thus the authorities. In fact, Epiphany offered his services to V. Zelensky, of course, in exchange for the support of the authorities, without which the OCU simply cannot exist: the state will support the OCU while the OCU will explain to the people the decisions of the authorities on the land market and other issues.

Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, echoes with Epiphany. He began with outright falsehood. According to the website of the President, Shevchuk noted that “now Ukraine is a democratic state, where everyone feels free – regardless of religion, and the religious community cherishes this state of affairs.”

What about a hundred seized temples of the UOC, the people, including children, harassed only because they belong to the canonical Church, the priests of the UOC thrown out of their homes with their families? Does that all also fit into the concept of freedom regardless of religion? Well, in principle, such statements are in the best Jesuit traditions.

Shevchuk wished the President the following: "I want to wish you the strength of Moses, who could say to Pharaoh: ‘Let my people go.’ Because no one today is so interested in peace in Ukraine as the Ukrainians themselves. Russia has its own interests, the rich countries of the West have their own. We cannot retreat from our desire to be a free, independent state, which has chosen its own path of development during these negotiations. We deserve that other nations, our neighbours respect our choice.”

To hear the biblical episode when the holy prophet Moses led the Jews out of Egyptian slavery from Shevchuk’s mouth is quite understandable. Actually, the head of the UGCC explained to Zelensky that Ukraine now has only two paths: back to the slave Soviet Union or forward to Europe.

This is more than a transparent hint that Zelensky should continue to lead the Ukrainian people out of the slavery of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union.

We can argue about slavery. On the one hand, there was also the Holodomor that was provoked by the Soviet leadership headed by Stalin (by the way, Georgian by nationality), and on the other hand, it was the Soviet Union that built all industry, all transport infrastructure, including gas and oil pipelines, all energy and so on. But on the eve of the "Normandy Summit", Sviatoslav Shevchuk's passage is absolutely clear: away from Russia, and therefore no peace agreements with it. The head of the UGCC said that our state has chosen its own path of development, meaning Ukraine's aspiration to join the European Union, but the choice of the Ukrainian people is also peace in the Ukrainian land. But Shevchuk warns: "We can't retreat from our desire during these negotiations...".

In general, both Epiphany Dumenko and Sviatoslav Shevchuk warned Volodymyr Zelensky against agreements with Russia. And this means that they have actually opposed peace in Ukraine. The clergy subordinate to them made it even clearer by actively joining in social networks calls for the Maidan on December 8 to torpedo possible agreements at the “Normandy Four” meeting.

There can be no real peace without compromises and reciprocal steps towards one another. The alternative to this is either war (we recall Ilovaysk and Debaltsevo) or freezing the conflict in its current state. The Ukrainian people want neither of these things. I would like to believe that the Ukrainian President does not want them either. However, he has few allies in this. Of the leaders of the main religious denominations, only His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry supported Zelensky's peace initiatives without any speculation about a "fair peace" or Egyptian slavery.
His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry at a meeting with the President. Photo:

Here are his words at a meeting with the President: “A person’s life cannot be justified or redeemed in any way. It is the most expensive thing in the whole world. We are grateful to you for starting this peacekeeping mission and understand that this is a complex process. But it had to be started – the process cannot be successful unless someone starts it.”

That's what the true shepherd said about! About human life, the only valuable thing in the eyes of God. Not about “victories”, “territories” or “land market”. The Primate of the UOC called on Vladimir Zelensky to be guided by precisely this criterion both in the upcoming negotiations and in general in his activities. He blessed the peace efforts of the President, and this blessing is of great value. Greater than all threats, direct or indirect, that come from the lips of the war party supporters.

Five years ago, at the very beginning of the war in the Donbass, Metropolitan Onuphry urged everyone to pray for peace in Ukraine. Sooner or later, this prayer will be answered. “... The prayer of a righteous person is powerful” (James 5, 16). And each of us can contribute to this. It is much needed now.

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