Ukraine 2006

Just before the elections

During a recent visit to Ukraine a brother saw the situation of the country and of the church there reflected in the weather! Heavy snowfalls and cold were succeeded by sudden warmer temperatures only to give way again to more winter-like conditions. Since the events of the "orange revolution" over a year ago there have also been advances followed by disappointments.

Some people said it was unrealistic to expect big changes in such a short time while others clearly felt disappointed that many major problems in public life had not begun to be tackled yet. However, most seemed to agree that something fundamental had changed. They believed that people now felt freer to express themselves, a certain unnamed fear had dissipated. And during this visit many people were expressing themselves very publicly since it was the period before the parliamentary elections.

Ukraine was quite a colourful country with supporters of all the main parties very visible in every city and even in small towns. Each had small tents erected in the colour of their party (orange, blue, green, yellow … ) and on many bridges people stood all day waving huge flags to urge support for them. It seemed like there was no lack of choice for voters, with some 45 parties vying to enter the parliament (only 5 would succeed!). This cacophony obviously caused confusion and some disappointment too for many people. Recent political allies now were seemingly divided. It brought to mind a Ukrainian saying that where there are two Ukrainians you will find three leaders!

Development of pastoral work among the young

For the church too this period is not easy in many ways. Divisions remain both within certain churches as well as between them. And of course there is always the temptation for some to mix political and religious questions in a way which in the end does not enhance the reputation of either. A young Orthodox priest explained how he began weekly meetings for young people over a year ago in a new parish in central Kiev but he made it a rule, coming up to the elections, that if anyone wanted to talk politics they could do it only out on the street! In the Orthodox Church it seems that pastoral work with young people is beginning to develop now. Recently some 200 young people from all over Ukraine gathered in the famous Kiev Lavra monastery to share their experiences of how they try live out commitments for others. Many put an emphasis on social work for those most in need. There are several projects in place focusing on the growing AIDS problem in Ukraine as well as trying to deal with the trafficking and exploitation of young women. Several Orthodox parishes in Kiev now have active youth groups and there is a monastery where the young Abbot welcomes about a hundred young people each week for meetings on many different themes of interest to them.

Among the disabled

During a visit to Vinnytsa, a city about 250 kms from Kiev, a young woman called Iryna who has a physical disability but who participated in the European Meeting in Milan, welcomed the brother to show him what she and others try to do for those around them. In Milan she made a strong impression on all who heard her when she spoke about the importance of giving some free time for others. She herself teaches a class in a centre for physically and mentally disabled children. To see the smiling faces of many of these children, whose lives are often not at all easy, as well as the kind attention of many of the staff there, was a rewarding experience in itself. A problem for them is that when they are older they can no longer visit the centre and are often left to themselves or to the care of their families. Iryna founded a small organisation to try to work for improvements in conditions for older disabled people.

In western Ukraine there were meetings with many people who had been in Milan or other Taizé meetings, especially young people from the Catholic and Greek Catholic churches. In the Greek Catholic Cathedral of Ternopil a "Way of the Cross" was led by young people, a strong tradition there during the time of Lent. This included some Taizé songs sung in Ukrainian. There were hundreds of people present and most of the young people remained for a meeting in the church after the prayer. Near Lviv there was a smaller meeting with young people in a village, some of whom are also planning to visit Taizé with their priest in summer.

Last updated: 9 April 2006