Kyiv, May 25, 2022

By Michele Dunne, OFS

FAN Executive Director Michele Dunne joined a delegation of high-level religious leaders who traveled to Kyiv in an emergency intervention seeking to contribute to ending aggression against Ukraine and to pray for a just peace.

What follows is a brief description of day three.

The lilacs are in full bloom in Kyiv now. Normally a city of 4 million, there are now some 2.5 million living here who either never left or have returned since Russian forces retreated in early April. Though lightly populated, the city appears to be trying hard to restore normal life. Still, the signs of war are everywhere: soldiers on the streets and concrete blocks, sandbags, and construction beams protecting strategic points on every major street.

Air raid sirens sound a few times during the day—as well as the middle of the night—but few people seem to head to shelters at present, understanding that the missiles are targeting other parts of the country for now—probably. There is an app that tracks where the missiles are flying and where they eventually strike. Locals check their phones casually when they hear a siren, assess it unlikely that the strike is on Kyiv, and go back to their business without comment.

Our religious delegation’s final day in Kyiv was packed with meetings: Deputy Mayor Valentyn Mondryivski (Mayor Klitschko being in Davos), Rabbi Jonathan Malkovitch, Greek Catholic Metropolitan Schevchuck (photo, below center), a prayer service in front of Saint Sophia Cathedral (photo, below left), a visit to Al-Rahma Mosque and meeting with Imam Ahmad Tamim, an interview with Ukrainian state television, and a group discussion with local civil society activists.

One of the themes to emerge from meetings is how Ukrainians who are normally peaceful are struggling with how to respond to the brutality of the Russian invasion. Meeting our group at the modern Cathedral of the Resurrection on the left bank of the Dnipro River, Metropolitan Schevchuck entered a conference room and—seeing we were too many for a personal introduction to each—greeted us all with a cheery “Christ is risen!” After giving a tour-de-force briefing on the political, humanitarian, and religious scene in Ukraine now, the Metropolitan spoke of the challenge of maintaining faith and optimism in the face of unbearable suffering, for example of people in the towns of Irpin and Bucha where murdered civilians were dumped into mass graves and public rape was used as a tool of humiliation and intimidation.

Asked by a member of our group whether it was right or wrong to demonize Russian leader Putin, Schevchuck said he did not want to demonize anyone. He added that it must be recognized, however, that the actions of Russians soldiers were not random but rather motivated by an ideology that should be seen for what it is: a right-wing, ultranationalist “Russian World” view with a thin overlay of Christian rhetoric that is used to justify violence.

In the civil society meeting, lifelong nonviolence activist Oelena admitted that she was shaken after helping to collect testimony from women raped by Russian soldiers. “I could not work for two days,” she said, admitting she had no answer to “how to stop this evil.” Tanya, a family mediator and psychotherapist, said she was overwhelmed by demand to counsel widowed women—she had seen more than 1000 already, with more every week. She fought tears as she said that she and her husband had never left Kyiv because they could not bear to leave the country while their oldest son was fighting in the army. Panel members were polite, but some visibly uncomfortable, while another activist made a strictly pacifist argument against the fighting as “a perpetuation of war and military culture that is only in the interest of the merchants of death.” Even among peace activists, that was clearly an outlier view.

Andre Kamenshikov of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict offered one important achievement from nonviolent efforts so far: citizen opposition in Belarus to joining the war against Ukraine was apparently strong enough to persuade President Lukashenko that he should confine his support to facilitating the Russian invasion. He and the other activists saw room for hope that persistent civil resistance, education on alternative methods of protest for those under Russian occupation, and effective delivery of antiwar messages to Russians could contribute to ending the war.

Ukrainians we met thanked our delegation for making the trip and expressed fear that their war was becoming old news in the United States and Europe. When a member of our group told the wife of a senior rabbi that we wished we could have come sooner, she replied, “No, you came exactly on time—just when we fear we are being forgotten!”

There is so much to reflect on after this trip, good work for the 14-hour bus ride back to Warsaw tomorrow.

Published in: on May 25, 2022 at 4:54 pm  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] Go to Day Three […]

  2. Wonderful work Michele and other peace workers! Our thoughts are prayers are with you and the people of Ukraine!

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