Ukraine, witness to true and lasting freedom – Catholic Philly

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Gina Christian

Some of the first words I heard regarding Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine were from Metropolitan Archbishop Borys Gudziak, leader of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States.

In a telephone interview from Paris, where he was attending meetings when Russian forces launched their February 24 attacks, the Archbishop simply said – with austere biblical clarity – “Ukraine is being crucified”.

I have never forgotten those words. And I never will.

Last week, exactly six months after that call, I was in a crowd of over 300 people watching the flag of Ukraine being raised at Philadelphia City Hall to mark August 24, the day of the independence of the war-torn nation. As the iconic blue and gold stripes unfurled in the breeze, I heard another statement that will stay with me forever.

“Nations that have been independent for many years, for centuries, don’t understand as we do how fragile independence is,” said Mariana Karapinka, communications officer for the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.

She knew it firsthand: she was born in Ukraine when it was still part of the former Soviet Union, which fell when she was 10.

“I came into the kitchen in the morning and my mum said, ‘Now we’re free’,” she recalls.

But freedom is intolerable to an authoritarian regime like that of Russia; even the prospect poses too great a threat, which is why dissent is fiercely silenced. Those who oppose Russian President Vladimir Putin and his administration often find themselves poisoned, as Alexander Litvinenko and Alexei Navalny; beaten down, as was Boris Nemtsov; or imprisoned, just like Navalny and, since February 24, more than 16,400 Russians who have protested against the war, according to the human rights organization OVD-Info.

In this nation, we largely take freedom for granted; Karapinka told me that she almost wished she could spend her country’s Independence Day with a light barbecue, but the war prevented it – and indeed, I wonder if she and the global Ukrainian community will be able to one day observe the occasion so cheerfully.

And that’s because they know all too well what’s at stake – just as Christ knew all too well what was at stake when he stretched out his arms on the cross. The battle lines had been drawn in eternity and – to quote Ukrainian Catholic activist Josyp Terelya, long imprisoned by the Soviets – “there can be no detente with the devil”.

From the first days of the current invasion – which continues the Russian attacks launched in 2014 with the attempted annexation of Crimea and the support of separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk – Bishop Gudziak and his fellow Ukrainian Catholic bishops have declared that this war was of profound moral clarity, an existential struggle between good and evil.

The same observation was made by secular analysts, who categorically refuted claims that Russia attacked Ukraine to counter NATO expansion or to ‘save’ Russian-speaking Ukrainians from non-existent ‘neo-Nazis’. .

Indeed, Putin’s regime has – in classic sexual and domestic violence perpetrator fashion – projected all its dysfunctions onto Ukraine, blaming the victim for the atrocities of which Russia, as the sole aggressor here, is guilty.

Every day, Russian forces target, execute, rape, torture, detain and summarily deport Ukrainian civilians – including infants and children – while stealing their property and ravaging Ukrainian infrastructure and land. The New Lines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights have, in a joint reportdocumented that Russia’s campaign qualifies as genocide under the terms defined in the 1948 Genocide Conventionof which Russia and the United States are signatories.

The Putin administration has endangered Europe and even the world by recklessly seizing the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant (the largest in Europe), forcing its Ukrainian staff to work at gunpoint and bombing the relentless area. On August 24, the plant was briefly and for the first time disconnected from the power gridrisking what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called a “radioactive disaster”.

As if such crimes were insufficient, the massive Russian propaganda machine – described by the Rand Corporation as a “fire hose of lies” – sows lies and confusion around the world in multiple languages, including English, Spanish and Arabic, seeking to cover up its genocide of Ukrainians.

With the full evilness of the Russian regime exposed, Ukraine is indeed being crucified.

And Ukraine knows exactly what freedom means and why compromise is impossible. Appease an abuser who has repeatedly insisted that “Russia has no borders” will only invite more violence, as anyone who has tried to make concessions with an abuser (myself included) can attest.

But Ukraine’s crucifixion, and at an indescribable cost to the Ukrainian people, is a revelation of hope for humanity.

As Bishop Gudziak noted in a recent interview, Ukrainians – with their very blood – testify that “there is something after death, there is something more important than my life. I have faith in God, I have faith in the truth, and this truth gives life and it is life.

Christ himself manifested this very conviction, laying down his body as an offering to the Father that we might be freed from sin and its slavery.

There can therefore be no “comfortable Christianity” because there can be no other choice than that between life and death (Deuteronomy 30:19) – and always choose life, although our fallen flesh hates demands, demands sacrifices.

As Ukrainians continue to bear witness to enduring truth, may we embrace God’s gift of genuine freedom and all the responsibilities that come with it – and may we have the courage to join Ukraine at the cross, knowing that we will finally rejoice in the Resurrection.

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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.



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