What are they fighting with in Ukraine and Belarus – coronavirus or Church?

Vladimir Zelensky and Alexander Lukashenko. Photo: UOJ

Why, in the midst of the pandemic, temples are left open in Belarus, while the Church in Ukraine is called a hotbed of the virus.

The main method of combating coronavirus is total lockdown, with blocking almost all economic processes and social contact. Almost all countries in Europe are subject to this quarantine – so is Ukraine.

However, in neighboring Belarus, the approach to combating COVID-19 is exactly the opposite. In this country, only risk-group people are isolated from society, while the rest of the population is given the opportunity to bear a disease in a mild form and develop immunity. No quarantine, no prohibitions, no opposition to believers who go to temples. On Easter days, the difference between the two policy lines had a dramatic effect on the Church.

Double standards

On the eve of Easter, most of the media and officials in Ukraine fomented hysteria, say, an entire catastrophe will happen to the country if people go to temples for the holiday. Certain individuals reached even outright threats that are difficult to qualify from the point of view of not only jurisprudence, but also the basic principles of human society.

Dnipro mayor Boris Filatov:

“Dear clergy <...> I’m lost for words. I feel like using strong language <...> I understand it like some of you have not heard me. Let me go over it again. In addition to fines from the police and criminal cases, you will get a full scope of measures from the city government, tested on fuel filling stations and metal reception points. Do you want to live without water and light, with locked doors and dug roads? You will have all this. In addition, be ready for the cancellation of land documents and any reconstruction permits. <...> I honestly warn you. And no one will help you. Neither my excellent relations with Bishop Irenaeus [Metropolitan of Dnipropetrovsk and Pavlograd – Ed.] nor the deputy lobby, nor the Lord himself.”

Konotop mayor Artem Seminikhin:

"Let an excavator dig the road around the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC – Ed.), let electricians turn off the light, and let the water utility turn off the water for them. <...> Let’s now prepare a decision for this session (City Council – Ed.) to break all lease agreements with Moscow churches."

“I want to firmly urge to prohibit the priests of the Moscow Patriarchate, who yesterday started hanging invitations across Konotop city to consecrate Easter cakes. <...> I tell you: I will be tough on you. I know that a lot of believers are parishioners of the Moscow Patriarchate. So I will protect them namely from you, Moscow priests. And believe me, I will drive hard. <...> You will not be glad that you wear that cassock if, God forbid, one of the people becomes infected with COVID-19 because of you."

We will not judge strictly and assume that these officials lost their face not because of their natural stupidity or aggression but from sincere concern for their fellow citizens. They say that mass gatherings of people in the midst of a pandemic are too dangerous.

However, why do the aforementioned mayors and similar sanitation advocates see the threat exclusively in the Church, merely turning a blind eye to any other places of large gatherings of people?

For example, it is clear that grocery stores are a vital thing. But isn’t it absurd to hold lavish opening ceremonies in the current situation, as is the case with the "Gratsia" supermarket in Mariupol?

Opening of the "Gratsia" supermarket on April 16 in Mariupol. Photo: 0629.com.ua

Crowds of people gather in the network of "Epicenter" construction stores every day. Moreoever, most of the goods sold there are far from essentials. But is the crowd there “epidemiologically sterile”?

By the way, in the photo below – the Epicenter shopping floor from Dnipro city. Why did Filatov not want to block its doors or dig roads around it?

"Epicenter" in Dnipro city. Screenshot of the YouTube channel "Nashe Misto"

It turns out that the crowds present at the opening of a new shopping center are not a disaster. Crowds of people in the construction market are not a disaster. But those who came to worship is a disaster so terrible that all of them must be a priori labeled as enemies of the people.

A crowd of people is regularly spotted in a lot of other places, albeit for objective reasons. For example, at bank branches and Ukrposhta. Many come here to receive a pension or to pay utility bills. Yes, all these operations are accessible online but for most old people this is not possible – besides, they need to get a pension. So what should the authorities do – dig roads to prevent people from doing what they need? Or, perhaps, to understand that their needs have to be reckoned with and for their part, make every effort to meet these needs as safely as possible in terms of combating the epidemic.

Indeed, for a believer to attend the liturgy is no less a necessity than for someone to receive a pension or pay utility bills. The word “liturgy” (λειτουργία) is translated from Greek as “common service” or “common cause”. And it’s impossible by definition to participate in this “common service” on the Internet.

So what should the authorities do?

Ensure the safe movement of people on the streets, organize the distribution of free masks for pensioners and the poor, establish outlets with free antiseptic treatment on the approaches to temples and other crowded places – and you will do everything possible to really fight the epidemic in places where people cannot help but come. If you continue to deliberately scour in the Church for those who are preventively guilty, turning a blind eye to all kinds of shopping malls, you will make it clear that you continue to pit Ukrainians against each other, shifting your failures in advance to those whom you choose to consider guilty.

Presidents' courses

Perhaps, there would have been no “Filatovs” or “Seminikhins” if the general policy of the state today were different. However, the President set the course for "Easter at home" in order not to let people into temples by any means, though he did it in a milder form.

President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky:

“Today, Ukraine, like the whole world, will celebrate Easter at home. <...> Yes, we stay at home. And may we be scared by the numbers on the scales, rather than the numbers on the thermometer after the weekend and after the lockdown. So that everything could be good in Ukraine and we all could be alive and safe. May God help us in this. And we will help God. We stay at home.”

However, in neighboring Belarus, the attitude of the authorities towards the Church and worship under the coronavirus is radically different, which also comes from the top, from the Head of state.

President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko:

“Whatever happened in our history, no one could cancel, stop or ban this holiday,” he emphasized. “I’ve always come and will come to the temple. Whatever the circumstances, this is sacred. This is the principle of my life. I want you to be guided by the kindest and brightest principles. And then He, seeing this, will certainly help <…> Those, who need to take care, protect themselves, stay home. Or just come out alone with relatives to breathe fresh air. Those, who are stronger, who have developed immunity and trust in God, are bolder.  Those come to temples. I do not welcome those who have closed the way for people to the temple. I do not welcome such a policy! Moreover, you know my position: we survive these viruses every year<…> when this psychosis came – not even a disease – everyone rushed from the temple, not to the temple – not good! But this is my position, my point of view, I do not impose it on anyone. It is up to you how you will live, and how your children will live.”

Who is right in this situation – Belarusian or Ukrainian authorities? Basically, whose approach to combating coronavirus is more justified? COVID-19 statistics gives a clear answer.

In Belarus, law enforcement agencies clearly monitor the contacts of those infected with other people and establish medical surveillance over them. The authorities did not close the borders, did not stop transport communications either within the country or with other countries, did not impose lockdown, did not stop the operation of enterprises, etc.

It would seem that they should have a significantly worse epidemiological situation than in Ukraine, which is totally locked down. But the number of cases is about the same. As of April 21, 2020, in Ukraine – 6,125, in Belarus – 6,264. In Ukraine, 161 people died of coronavirus, while in Belarus – 51. By the way, the availability of mechanical ventilation devices in Belarus is 2.3 per 100 thousand people, while in Ukraine – 0.95.

It turns out that one can live quite normally and keep the epidemiological situation within acceptable limits without coronavirus psychosis, without blocking the economy and restricting worship.

Either Belarusians are smarter than us or Ukrainian authorities pursue completely different goals than those declared by them.

“You will not be glad that you wear those cassocks if, God forbid, at least one citizen becomes infected with COVID-19 because of you.” 

Konotop Mayor Artem Seminikhin

We will not talk now about economics, finance, and international relations. It is about the attitude of the state towards the Church. They intended to destroy the UOC under the auspices of the Tomos. They failed to. Now the coronavirus gives such an opportunity. The Ukrainian Lavras have already been declared nurseries of COVID-19. Isn’t it a good reason to try to transfer them to an ideologically correct OCU, which "strictly fulfills" all quarantine requirements? And what a great opportunity our authorities have to make the cause of the incidence the fact that people came to temples for Easter rather than the collapse of our health care system.

Nevertheless, I would like to believe that our authorities really care about the health of citizens and act in a good faith. However, it is regretful that they cannot understand what President of Tanzania John Magufuli, who proclaimed a three-day joint prayer for healing from coronavirus in the country, has already understood. Furthermore, he urged to pray not at home but in churches of all faiths. Only repentance and prayer to God can help people in difficult situations. Why do the Ukrainian authorities not understand or do not want to understand that without God, all efforts to combat COVID-19 would be in vain?

“If the Lord does not build a house, those who build it work in vain; if the Lord does not guard the city, the guard is vainly awake” (Psalm 126: 1).

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