Now that we’ve marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, we realise that the problem was not solved at that time. The Kremlin is trying to build another Berlin wall, which according to their design will extend across Ukraine, Archbishop Yevstraty told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.
Yevstraty, Archbishop of Chernihiv is Representative of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate to the European institutions.
He spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.
I noticed that young visitors to the European Parliament where we are speaking [on 18 November] recognised you. You must be a very famous person.
I am Archbishop of Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv Patriarchate. I am 37 years old. I have many positions in our church, I am secretary of the Holy Synod, Archbishop of Chernihiv – it’s a diocese of our church in the Northern part of Ukraine. I am chief of Information department of our Patriarchy and Professor in our theological academy. And here in Brussels, I am Representative of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Kyiv, Patriarchate to the European institutions.
How do you share your time between Ukraine and the EU?
Approximately one week every month I am here in Brussels.
For the sake of better understanding, how big is the Orthodox community in Ukraine?
According to polls, we have more than 70% of Orthodox believers, and 8% of Greek Catholic Church believers, and 1% of Roman Catholic Church believers. [Religion in Ukraine is complicated. According to reports, a majority of Ukrainians say they are “irreligious”. Among the Orthodox, a majority is following the Kyiv Orthodox churh, but a sizeable minority say they follow the Moscow Orthodox church.]
How independent is the Ukraine Orthodox church from Russia’s Orthodox Patriarchate?
Moscow’s Patriarchate doesn’t recognise us, it doesn’t recognise our church. Moscow tries to build a wall around Ukrainian Orthodox church Kyiv Patriarchate. It strongly tries to prevent us from having any relations with any other Orthodox church, but also with the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant church in Europe too.
The Orthodox church in Serbia played a very negative role during the Yugoslav wars, as it had advocated ethnic cleansing and blessed the war criminals. I see something similar in the way the Russian Orthodox church behaves vis-à-vis the Ukraine conflict. How would you describe the situation?
We support peace. We hear that occupation is peace too, but it is not true peace. We support Ukraine’s independence, our sovereignty, our territorial integrity and all the processes aimed at bringing peace to Ukraine. We are not nationalist. Among our believers there are native Russians, Romanians, Georgians and other, and our understanding is that Ukraine is not a state for Ukrainians only. Ukraine is a modern European country and a society based on values of respect for each other. We share the EU values in these matters.
As the Ukrainian Orthodox Church representative to European institutions, what is your mission?
I am the representative to the European institutions, especially of the EU. Ukraine has signed an Association Agreement with the EU and we understand that Ukraine’s future is a European future. We need more and more contacts and exchange of views, and my mission is to establish such contacts with European politicians, NGOs and everybody who is interested in Ukrainian matters.
Do you think that the Ukrainian situation is understood in the West?
I think that many people don’t really understand what is happening in Ukraine now, especially in the Western part of Europe. The Eastern Europeans who remember the Soviet era understand us well. But Western Europeans don’t understand well, and we need more communications and more contacts with Western European society, ordinary people, media, for a better understanding of what is happening in Ukraine and what Europe needs to do in this conflict.
What is the impact of Russian propaganda in Ukraine, and how do you estimate its impact abroad, even in the West?
Since World War II, the world has not seen such a cynical, massive and powerful propaganda. The only possible comparison is with Goebbels [Joseph Goebbels was Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda], who used to say that a lie repeated a thousand times becomes truth. That’s why many people are confused by this propaganda. The human being subconsciously is inclined to believe. The human being does not suspect that a lie could be so monstrous, so massive. That’s why Western societies, who accept that media tell the truth, when they are confronted with a 100% lie, cannot believe that all is a lie. People say – maybe part of it is a lie, maybe even 50%. And the purpose of propaganda is precisely in this. Not to convince people 100%, but that they would have doubts and find justifications for the war Russia is waging in Ukraine.
But the conflict in Ukraine is not between the Ukrainians and the Russians. It’s not even a conflict between Ukraine and Russia. It’s a conflict between future and the Soviet past. Because what happened in Russia is precisely what would have happened in Nazi Germany, if there was no de-nazification. In Russia, the old KGB people have returned to power. And they try to restore the Soviet model, its social model and also its international politics. So it’s not a battle only for Ukraine.
It’s symbolic that when we mark the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, we realise that the problem was not solved at that time. The Kremlin is trying to build another Berlin wall, which according to their design, will come across the territory of Ukraine.
What role does the Russian Orthodox church play in this?
Unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox church has become part of the administration of the Russian state and of its apparatus of influencing public opinion. That’s why Patriarch Kirill repeats what Putin says. The Russian church doesn’t fulfill one of its main functions: to tell the truth. In the case of a conflict between the state and the society, on which side will be the Russian church? In the case of Ukraine, the church is with the people, which was obvious during Maidan. In Russia, in all situations of conflict between the society and the state, the church sticks with the power.
That’s why I think that in a not very distant future, the Russian church will experience serious shocks. The society will change its relation with the church, and only those who love the power will love the church. We have already seen this in history, when the collapse of the monarchy in 1917 has resulted in catastrophe for the Russian church.