Ukrainian Episcop Victor: Ukraine will not be the same as before…


The horror of the war is in Ukraine, since the invasion of the Russian troops leaving thousands of dead and wounded people and, furthermore, forcing 6 million people to leave the country. 

«This war cannot be called otherwise than insanity, and there is no reason to justify it…» points to an exclusive interview to ‘News-Politics’ the Ukranian Episcop Victor (Епископ Ви́кторв миру Влади́мир Дми́триевич Коца́ба, укр. Володимир Дмитрович Коцаба)

By Peggy Dokou, for News-Politics (exclusive Interview)

-Ukraine is at the epicenter of the war. The flock has suffered enough for many years and is suffering even more now. Your Grace, describe to us the current situation for the people and believers, in particular. 

To be honest, the situation is very difficult. For several reasons, the believers of the UOC are facing an even more difficult situation now than the people of Ukraine as a whole. The country is at war. The war we did not expect. The war that shocked us all. The war, in the outbreak of which we did not believe until the last day. The war, unleashed by the Russian Federation against Ukraine.

It is possible to say with certainty already now that Ukraine will not be the same as before. Thousands of our fellow citizens died defending their homeland, the infrastructure is destroyed, and the economy is in a disastrous state. We have been put on the brink of survival, and the likelihood of a humanitarian catastrophe is quite high. But even if one does not take into account all these terrible factors, but only considers the fact that almost five thousand civilians of Ukraine, including nearly three hundred children, died during the 5 months of warfare, it becomes obvious this war cannot be called otherwise than insanity, and there is no reason to justify it.

At the same time, the position of the UOC believers is aggravated not only by the external war, but also by a war on the domestic front, so to speak. The war being waged against our Church by representatives of other Christian denominations or individual state agents. Our churches are still seized, mostly in the west of Ukraine; our believers and priests are often beaten, and all this is happening against the background of military aggression by the Russian Federation. As a result, over 70 churches of the UOC have been completely or partially destroyed by explosion or shelling, primarily in the east of the country. The situation is inexplicable and incomprehensible: our churches are taken away in the west of Ukraine and destroyed in the east.

As of July 4, 2022, the UOC has recorded 222 cases of raider attacks of UOC religious communities and 48 cases of prohibition of the activities of the UOC by local self-government bodies. Judge for yourself: our parishioners are fighting at the front, our Church is carrying out an incredible social and humanitarian mission, but at the same time, temples of the UOC are unlawfully seized, and we are accused of unpatriotism! There is obviously no logic here, except for the “logic” of the archenemy, who is hindered by the very existence of the Church.

This fact became even more obvious after the Council of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which took place on May 27 in Kyiv at the St. Panteleimon Nunnery in Feofaniya. Before the Council, all the ill-wishers of our Church, in their aggressive statements and demands, constantly referred to the UOC being part of the ROC, which is unacceptable in times of war. The war only added fuel to this rhetoric.

Well, the hierarchs, priests and laity, who gathered at the Council in Feofaniya, decided to perfect the independent status of the UOC, granted to it by Patriarch Alexy II back in 1990. In other words, the ecclesiastical-canonical statute, from the text of which all clauses containing a mention of any administrative relation with the ROC were eliminated, was brought into compliance with the actual status of the UOC it has had for 32 years. Yet, the diocesan bishops of those dioceses that have troubles with communications or no communications with the church leading center were granted freedom by the council to make decisions falling within the competence of the highest ecclesiastical authority for the period of wartime.

Through such decisions, the Council deprived the enemies of the Church of their main arguments. What for? To show that actually, those who oppose the UOC are not advocating for its independent status, but solely for destroying it. I have repeatedly had a chance to talk with our believers, who say that during the seizure of their churches, “patriots” respond to remarks about the independence of the UOC by saying this does not matter to them, because our Church simply “should not exist.” It is clear now that these people “fight” against the lawful canonical Church, rather than for the “Ukrainian Church”. Therefore, as you can see, with the outbreak of the war, the UOC found itself in a very precarious situation.

-Do you think the dialogue with the OCU can continue under these circumstances? Moreover, why do they still pursue their aggressive activities against the UOC?

By and large, the dialogue has not even started. Because dialogue involves interlocutors that are ready to hear and listen to each other. Dialogue is a conversation between two civilized persons. Yet, dialogue is physically and virtually impossible when one of the interlocutors holds a bat in his hand and not only threatens, but also uses it in relation to the other interlocutor.

Tell me, what kind of dialogue can there be with a person who broke the door in my house, broke into my home and threatens all my household members with reprisal? Today, unfortunately, representatives of the OCU act likewise. Why is this happening? Why are they still so aggressive towards the UOC? Several factors played their part here.

The first one is the purposeful creation of the image of an enemy from our Church in the media. For many years, unscrupulous journalists did everything to turn ordinary people against the UOC. To some extent, they have succeeded, unsurprisingly, since who owns the information, owns the world and influences the minds of society. All you have to do it to read George Orwell, and everything becomes clear.

On the other hand, the authorities did not react to the flow of falsehood and slander against the Church, and at certain moments even assisted in it. Suffice it to recall the actions of former President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko for several years to understand that aggression against the UOC is not a sporadic phenomenon, confined by the geographical boundaries of a particular region, but an entire program used for political ends. With the advent of Vladimir Zelensky, a lot has changed, we can breathe a little more easily, but many problems are still there.

Let’s return to the dialogue with the OCU. Representatives of this denomination today are trying to make the most of the situation with the war. They exploit patriotic feelings of our fellow citizens not to unite our torn-apart Ukraine, but to take away our churches. In a situation like this, dialogue is impossible, which, by the way, the Council in Feofaniya also reiterated. The requisites for a normal conversation between the UOC and the OCU are very clearly defined: first of all, representatives of the OCU must stop their hostile activities against the UOC. We are open to dialogue, but in order for it to start, the OCU must, first of all, stop beating UOC believers and throwing them out of the temples they have built on their own.

-Did President Zelensky fulfill his pledges regarding church problems in Ukraine?

President Zelensky promised not to interfere in the affairs of the Church, as required by the Constitution of our country. Basically, he keeps his promise. He really behaves like the head of a secular state. However, unfortunately, some politicians in Ukraine do not follow the example of the President and not only fail to keep aloof from religious problems in the country, but also create them themselves.

For example, recently there has been a wave of parliamentary decisions and appeals at the level of local governments demanding to ban the activities of the UOC in certain regions of Ukraine. This is a gross violation of the Constitution and a violation of basic human rights. In my opinion, the central government should respond to such things.

In addition, so far nothing has been done with the anti-church laws, adopted by the Ukrainian parliament during the term of Petro Poroshenko. Those officials who are trying to play the “religious card” locally now actively exploit these laws, “addressing” the problems of the Church instead of dealing specifically with social and humanitarian issues. Of course, improving the state of housing and communal services is much more difficult than making populist statements about the Church. Here they go. However, making one’s political career through fighting the UOC is unwinnable and will not do any good to anyone.

I think that everything will fall into place eventually. The President and his staff are obviously facing tasks that are more serious now. Nevertheless, religious issues, viz. the violation of the rights and freedoms of UOC believers, will definitely appear on the agenda of the Ukrainian central authorities. After all, since Ukraine declares its European claims and has already received the status of a candidate for the EU, it must necessarily adhere to democratic principles, not just declare them.

-A few months ago you said that more than a million children had left Ukraine. Do you feel optimistic that all these children will someday return to their country?

You can see for yourself how many Ukrainians have left our country since the Russian Federation troops invaded Ukraine. According to various estimates, their number is about 6 million people. Apparently, not all of them will return to their homeland. This is clearly bad for our country, since the refugees are primarily women, youngsters, and children, i.e. those who are supposed to build a new Ukraine.

Potentially, these are future IT employees, engineers, economists, teachers, doctors. In a sense, this is our intellectual future, and we must do everything to have these people return to their native land. Let’s hope that happens.

I wish all of us a peaceful sky above our heads. We have experienced the real value of these words lately. Sometimes we cannot take this anymore as humans, but we know and believe that where man no longer has the strength, God begins to act! With this hope, we continue to live, move along and exist.