War Diary of a Ukrainian Jesuit

Editorremark : Father Zelinskyy is the Chief Military Chaplain of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

I find myself moved by a bright star in the deep dark sky of the city of Lviv in western Ukraine. A tiny but very bright light shimmering in the cold night above the town I moved to because of the Russian airstrikes on Kyiv, where I have lived and served for 10 years.

I love Kyiv, one of the greenest, nicest and most peaceful capitals in Europe. On February 24, I woke up to a completely different world.

Peace was destroyed by the Russian bombs dropped on my city and so many other Ukrainian cities. Since that first morning, the Russians have not, for even a single day, stopped shelling and shelling our towns and villages.

Witnessing the level and extent of the violence in recent days, I still cannot understand its source. Violence without reason, senseless cruelty.

Only a few weeks ago, Volnovakha, near Donetsk, was a town I visited many times, with people on the streets and hope in their eyes, children going to school and parents thinking about their future. And now, like other cities under Russian bombardment, it does not exist, neither the city nor the future of so many of its inhabitants. They were killed by war.

During these first three weeks of Russian invasion, more than 900 rockets and missiles were launched against Ukraine; more than 300 per week or almost 50 aerial attacks per day. In the city of Kharkiv alone, which has a population of 1.5 million, more than 600 buildings were completely destroyed. The city of Mariupol, located on the northwest coast of the Sea of ​​Azov, has been under siege for more than two weeks.

Similar stories can be told about the cities of Isyum, Irpin, Bucha, Chernihiv and many others.

Witnessing the level and extent of the violence in recent days, I still cannot understand its source. The bombing of pediatric and maternity hospitals, schools and churches, a bread factory and residential apartments, has no strategic purpose. It is violence without reason, senseless cruelty.

Obviously, you can’t start a war for no reason. And if there isn’t a legitimate one, you have to invent one. In his official statement launching the “special military operation” against Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia’s two main goals are “demilitarization” and “denazification.”

The “Russian world” appears to be only a mental construct, a beautifully decorated illusion, a cultural cover on a dangerous anti-human political core. It’s a fake.

We Ukrainians know well that Russian military aggression did not begin in February. It began in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea and the occupation of chunks of two eastern regions of the country where Russia has installed quasi-governments. The West has made a strategic decision not to notice this war in Ukraine. Before the start of this all-out war against Ukraine in February, the lives of 14,000 civilians and more than 4,000 military personnel had already been lost fighting the Russians since 2014, and more than 1.5 million people had already been killed. forced to leave their homes and take refuge in other parts of the country or abroad.

The response of the international community to the capture of Crimea and the aggression in the Donbass region did not seriously affect Russia.

Now, what Mr. Putin means by “demilitarization” is depriving our armed forces of any ability to defend Ukraine against this ongoing Russian military aggression in the east.

The term “denazification” of Mr. Putin is even more problematic.

To lend credibility to this effort, one must first find a “Nazi” in the Ukrainian government, which is led by President Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, in a country that has lost an estimated 9 million lives in its fight against the Nazi army during World War II. Everyone in Ukraine understands very well that Mr. Putin’s mission cannot be accomplished: you cannot find what does not exist.

But Russia’s authoritarian tradition makes it easy to undermine reality: you can always make something up. Most Russians have accepted their president’s assertions about the threats coming from Ukraine or the necessity of the military means used in the operation. With few exceptions, they have not shown the courage required to question the legitimacy of Mr. Putin’s justification for this war. In authoritarian societies, reality is dictated, not discovered, and truth is constructed, not received. A “real” truth is dangerous. He frees people.

The problem with this “Russian world” ideology is that it simply does not exist. The Russian war against Ukraine proves this better than anything else.

Where there is fear, there is always room for shame. And shameful in this whole story is the official position of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Church of Christ has had the same mission throughout long centuries of human history: to announce, in word and deed, to all peoples the healing truth of our Lord and Savior Jesus of Nazareth, in whom the Eternal God manifests an unlimited love for humanity, which makes us all brothers and sisters in Christ, beneficiaries of his eternal mercy.

After three weeks of fierce shelling, after so much suffering by innocent civilians, most of whom consider themselves followers of the Orthodox Church, the Patriarch of Moscow has not said a word in their defense. Instead, he makes loud political statements accusing the countries that provide the Ukrainian people with the means of defense of somehow provoking or prolonging the war.

To make his arguments more “credible”, the patriarch drew the attention of his flock to the multiplication of gay pride parades which are supposed to be a “test to enter the club of these powerful countries”. But he said not a single word about the innocent victims of Russian air and artillery attacks, not a word of consolation for those whose homes and lives were sorely destroyed.

This is what happens when the church does not preach the gospel, but the ideology of the state; when the value, meaning and dignity of a human being vanishes before the shadow of a “great culture”; when the obligation of political authorities to serve the needs of their people is replaced by an insatiable desire to satisfy their own interests at the expense of the governed; when personal responsibility gives way to exaggerated national pride and reality to beautifully decorated mental illusions.

After three weeks of fierce shelling, after so much suffering from innocent civilians, the Patriarch of Moscow has not said a word in their defense

The concept of the “Russian world” is often defined by representatives of the Russian elite, notably by Patriarch Kirill and Mr. Putin, as “Holy Rus”, a transnational “Russian civilization”. It includes the nations of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, as well as territory occupied by ethnic Russians and Russian speakers from around the world.

According to this ideology, the “Russian world” has a political center in Moscow and a spiritual center in kyiv, with a Russian language as a means of communication and propagation of Russian culture. The Russian Orthodox Church is its sole dominant religious institution, and the Patriarch of Moscow its principal religious leader, acting now in complete spiritual symphony with the President of Russia, the political head of this vast social, spiritual and cultural realm.

Russian leaders position the collective West as an opponent of this political and spiritual civilization, arguing that “liberalism”, “globalization”, “militant secularism” and “gay pride parades” are its antitheses. The “Russian world” has been used in recent decades as an ideological cover for the high degree of social injustice in Russia, to prevent citizens from sympathizing with Western democratic institutions, and to legitimize the imperialist ambitions of the Russian political establishment. State propaganda based on the tenets of this ideology has for years distorted citizens’ perception of reality by portraying anything and everything that opposes Mr. Putin’s autocratic rule as “Nazi” or “Fascist.” “.

The problem with this “Russian world” ideology is that it simply does not exist. The Russian war against Ukraine proves this better than anything else. when you see a Russian tank blowing up an old man in Mariupol or Russian soldiers killing civilians queuing for bread in Chernihivand when you don’t hear a single word against this diabolical violence from the spiritual leader of the “Russian world”, you understand that it simply has nothing to do with spirituality, humanity or reality.

This is what happens when the church does not preach the gospel, but the ideology of the state; when the value, meaning and dignity of a human being vanishes before the shadow of a “great culture”.

When you see Russian bombs destroying Orthodox churches, and Russian-speaking Ukrainian soldiers laying down their lives in a brave fight against the Russian army, and when you listen to Ukrainian mothers who have lost their sons cursing Russian invaders in Russian, you you realize that not the spiritual or cultural unity brought by the Russian language or the Russian church actually exists.

The “Russian world” appears to be only a mental construct, a beautifully decorated illusion, a cultural cover on a dangerous anti-human political core. It’s a fake.

This bright twinkling star in the cold night sky captured my full attention for a minute. It was a beautiful and peaceful sight, an alternative to the war-torn world I had been living in for a few days.

But no matter how peaceful and beautiful it looked, I know it inhabited deep space that was probably not suitable for human life. Like the brilliant idea of ​​Holy Rus, it was bubbly and attractive, but it offered no safe haven for human life.

People are prey to illusions. They seek to create meaning that will outlive their lives. A social class, a political nation, a biological race or a cultural identity – all can seem bright enough to capture our imagination, offering a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. Yet, like bright, distant stars in cold space, these ideologies cannot support human life.

We have already experienced this many times over the past bloody century. It seems we haven’t learned our lesson yet.

It may not be too late yet.

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the city of Volnovakha was near kyiv.

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