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US-Born Ukrainian Church Leader Offers "Just War" Defense of Escalating Violence against East Ukraine

  • Borys Gudziak, head of External Affairs of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, says the volunteer battalions in East Ukraine are fighting in self-defense
  • This is disgusting
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This article originally appeared at The Tablet

A senior Ukrainian church leader has defended the escalating use of violence against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Borys Gudziak, who is head of External Affairs of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and president of the Ukrainian Catholic University, said soldiers and some volunteer battalions “have begun to defend themselves in an armed way” – which he said could be justified by the Just War doctrine. He admitted he had a “sense of apprehension” about the future.

In eastern Ukraine Stefan Meniok, the bishop of Donetsk, part of which is occupied by separatists, has been exiled from his cathedral and chancery.

US-born Bishop Gudziak said that according to the Gruz200 monitoring website, Russian soldiers and mercenaries were operating unofficially in Ukraine.

Bishop Gudziak told The Tablet on a visit to London that popular support was high for the army, which has been “rebuilt from scratch” since widespread protests led to last year’s ousting of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Volunteers are donating money to the army, as well as sewing socks and bullet-proof vests and making freeze-dried borscht for the soldiers, the bishop said.

Interpol said on Monday it had put Yanukovych on its wanted list on charges of embezzling public funds.

Earlier this month, a Ukrainian Latin Rite Bishop, Stanislav Szyrokoradiuk of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia, a vast territory covering most of eastern Ukraine, told the charity Aid to the Church in Need that more than 80 people had died of hunger in Luhansk and Donetsk – areas where separatists have claimed autonomy from Ukraine. The bishop, who is director of Caritas Ukraine, said more than 20,000 Ukrainians have fled their homes and had arrived in the city of Kharkiv.

However Bishop Gudziak maintained that Ukrainians had experienced a new-found self-confidence, which he linked to “very important” ecumenical and interfaith collaboration especially in promoting dialogue and non-violent protests during the demonstrations last spring that led to Yanukovych fleeing to exile in Russia.

But he noted that in Crimea, whose annexation by Russia he said was a “moral loss” for Putin, left Catholics there uncertain whether their parishes would be allowed to continue operating (The Tablet, 10 January).

However he said some people criticised the Government of President Petro Poroshenko for the slow pace of reform. But he expressed hope that the high number of Western-educated and English-speaking cabinet members signified that the country would not be left isolated, as he said Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted.

“Mr Putin has proved to be a fearful man,” he said. He’s afraid of the freedom Ukrainians demonstrated. The press are exuberantly free.” He noted: “It’s a manifestation of democracy in a post-Soviet country.”

The bishop said the notion that Ukraine was divided and could be split east-west was a picture painted by Putin.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which is in communion with Rome, was suppressed by the Soviets between 1946 and 1989.

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