Gina Christian

One Sunday afternoon in mid-January, I sat at my laptop, awaiting a call from Archbishop Borys Gudziak, the Metropolitan of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States. At the time, tens of thousands of Russian troops were massed along the Ukrainian border, and my editor and I wanted to hear from Ukrainian Catholics about it. In the midst of an extremely busy pastoral schedule, Bishop Gudziak graciously agreed to speak with me.

I think I will never forget this conversation.

After exchanging our greetings, the Archbishop gently brushed past my rather naïve interview questions and, in a voice of calm conviction, spoke words that turned out to be prophetic.

While Americans thought Russian President Vladimir Putin was simply fighting to keep Western leaders off balance, Archbishop Gudziak was blunt, saying the buildup was “a matter of life and death.” for thousands of people, who (would) be massacred by an escalation of the invasion,” with “between three and six million refugees (influx) into Western Europe.”

And the bloodshed would not be limited to Ukraine, he said.

“If Russia succeeds in subjugating Ukraine, there is a good chance that the process will continue in the Baltic countries, in Central Europe and beyond,” Archbishop Gudziak said.

Ukrainians know this probability all too well, he said.

For them, “the reality of war…is not a new story,” Bishop Gudziak said. “Our priests (over there) have been burying war dead regularly for over eight years.”

In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, with Russian-backed separatists proclaiming “people’s republics” in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. The move came just 23 years after Ukraine gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, of which it was a part.

Between 2014 and this latest Russian invasion, clashes, shelling and sniper attacks became commonplace in eastern Ukraine, killing between 14,000 and 15,000 and some 1.5 million people displaced within the country.

Ukraine was already well aware of this suffering. While subjugated by the Soviet Union, its dead were among the 50-60 million killed by “wars, purges, genocides and ideological repression”, Archbishop Gudziak said.

From 1932 to 1933, at least four million Ukrainians (about 13% of the population) died in the Holodomor, a famine deliberately created by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin through the collectivization of farms to “break the back of the Ukrainian peasantry,” the archbishop said.

Furthermore, the Orthodox Church – which under Communism maintained “a certain form of existence” – was persecuted, while “the Roman Catholic Church was almost completely wiped out, along with many Protestant communities” in Ukraine, Bishop Gudziak said. “The Ukrainian Catholic Church became the largest illegal church in the world from 1946 to 1989.”

And it can be that again.

On February 24, just a month after my interview, Russian troops invaded Ukraine in force. Bishop Gudziak spoke to me again, this time from Paris, where he was holding emergency meetings with diplomats.

“Ukraine is being crucified,” he said – and, as with Christ, it had first been betrayed.

In 1994 Ukraine voluntarily gave up its nuclear arsenal – the third largest in the world at the time – as part of the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, by which the United States, Russia and Great Britain are committed “to respect the independence and sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine”. and “to refrain from the threat or use of force” against Ukraine.

Now, Bishop Gudziak said, “one of the signatories (Russia) is the offender.”

For years, Ukrainian officials had warned their counterparts against continued Russian targets and assaults. In return, insufficient sanctions from the West left Russia “its hand slapped and not much more”, the archbishop said.

Our ‘attachment to comfort’, along with our ‘loss of understanding of human nature and the profound consequences of sin’, has allowed us to ‘stand by and watch what has been happening in Ukraine over the past eight years “, did he declare.

Indeed, trapped in sensuality, consumerism, greed, ideology, polarization and countless other sins, we face an overdue “soul check”, he said. declared. “How did (the West) sit idly by and watch what was happening in Ukraine over the past eight years?”

As I write these lines, thousands – including pregnant women, infants and children – have been killed and maimed by Russian weapons, which deliberately target not only critical infrastructure and nuclear power plants, but also schools, maternities, residential areas, churches, civilian bomb shelters and humanitarian corridors.

Nearly four million refugees have fled to countries neighboring the European Union. Nearly seven million people remain internally displaced in Ukraine; Another 12 million people have taken refuge there and are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Several thousand Ukrainians from the besieged but unconquered city of Mariupol have, according to Ukrainian authorities, been deported to Russia – whose leader, Vladimir Putin, has passed in two decades, as the New York Times recently observed, “from statesman to dictator”.

Archbishop Gudziak, like every Ukrainian and Ukrainian-American I have interviewed, knows exactly what is at stake in this war – historically, morally and spiritually.

Do we?

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the worldwide Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, offers an answer in his daily video message for March 19, the 24th day of the war: “Do not close your hearts to the pain of Ukraine, for one day the Lord God will say to you: ‘I was wounded in Ukraine, and you turned your face away from me.’

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Gina Christian is Senior Content Producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside the CatholicPhilly.com Podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors”. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.