Rivne, September 10, 2019
Ukrainian Orthodox Christians had an opportunity to meet with their president today and personally recount to him stories of persecution they experienced under the previous administration in the Rivne Province.
While Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky was in the provincial capital of Rivne today, on official business to introduce the new head of the Provincial State Administration, he met with a crowd of Ukrainian Orthodox Christians gathered outside the local airport.
Upon hearing the president was coming to town, around 200 faithful and 30 clergymen of the Rivne Diocese peacefully gathered outside the local airport hoping the president might address their situation. Even if he would not meet them, they hoped he would at least see their signs, on which they wrote messages such as “Mr. President, please stop the genocide against the faithful of the Ukrainian nation.”
They not only got their wish, in that the president saw them, but he personally came out to meet them, and they had an opportunity to tell him about the persecution they experienced, and appeal to him face to face, asking him to guarantee and protect their constitutional rights.
Previously in May, as the Union of Orthodox Journalists reported, the police opened a criminal investigation against the previous chairmen of the Rivne government, for trying to forcefully and illegally seize and transfer churches to the schismatics. Although he resigned, the new acting head carried his ideas and plans forwards. Now, President Zelensky has appointed a new chairman, and the hope is that the rights of all religious people will be protected.
The previous President of Ukraine was considered a persecutor of the church by Ukrainian believers, such as Metropolitan Luke of Zaporozhye.
While the situation in Ukraine is obviously still very tense, and there is still a civil war, under the new President Zelensky a more productive and promising attitude has begun to surface at the least.
For example, during the All-Ukrainian Cross Procession, this was the first year the Ukrainian Police declared the procession of the canonical Church to be twice as large as that of the schismatics. See this article for a full analysis of that incredibly significant event.
In previous years there were open provocations staged against the Church, but this year there were practically none, at least from the side of the state in Kiev. After the procession, President Zelensky did not publicly support either side, but called for dialogue so religion would unite and not divide Ukraine.
In response, His Eminence Metropolitan Anthony (Pakanich) of Boryspol and Brovary, the Chancellor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, responded pointing out that dialogue cannot take place against the backdrop of Church seizures.
Metropolitan Anthony explained that the canonical Ukrainian Church is not against dialogue, but believes any words of reconciliation must be genuine, and not empty.
He articulated what many Ukrainian Christians, such as these in Rivne, believe from their experiences: that various forces persecute the Church and then suggest that the Church should come together with them, even as they continue to persecute the Church at the same time. Many Ukrainians consider certain offers of dialogue from historical persecutors as cynical, or not genuine, because of these painful experiences.
The people of Rivne greeted President Zelensky today, in the hope that he will genuinely protect their freedom, and all of Ukraine is waiting to see if new promises made will be carried out in reality.