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From Maidan to Eastern Border, Ukrainians Confront Spiritual and Emotional Needs

Jim Forest CC

Ukraine

John Burger - published on 09/03/14 - updated on 06/07/17

“I actively participated in Maidan, and after Crimea was annexed I served as a military chaplain,” said Father Dmitriev, 39. “In early July I took my parish with me and moved to the Kiev Patriarchate. I’m convinced that the Russian Orthodox Church based in Moscow exercises pressure on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church that belongs to the Moscow Patriarchate in support of separatism in the East. We see calls for peace coming from the Moscow clergy but we also see there is a huge divide between what they say and what is done in the East.”

Father Dmitriev, deputy head of the department of social service and charity in the Kiev Patriarchate, claims to know of cases where Moscow priests have participated in the kidnapping and torture of priests belonging to other denominations and religions. “Based on that I could no longer stay with a Church that proclaimed such double standards,” he said through an interpreter, Roman Oleksenko.

The training that Yale offered the 25 professionals will be implemented in as many ways back in Ukraine. Father Andriy Lohin, for example, plans to develop a nationwide network of PTSD training for spiritual leaders and is initiating an opening of several psychological assistance centers for Maidan victims.

Father Lohin, 38, is a priest at the Lviv archdiocese of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and chairman of the Commission for Pastoral Health Care. His involvement in Maidan and the events since then has been not only as a chaplain but also through the chaplain corps he oversees. Priests—both Catholic and Orthodox—not only led prayer services on Independence Square and sometimes cooled tensions between protesters and police but also saw many of the wounded and dying in hospitals.

“We saw how important it was to be physically present in the hospital,” Father Lohin said through the same interpreter, Oleksenko. “Many people in Ukraine still live in the sense that they’re far away from God; they don’t realize how important their relationship with God should be, but when they face death many people started asking themselves ‘What are we going to do next? Do I have an eternal soul? Have I lived a good life? What am I going to tell God?’ It was then our presence gave us a chance to offer answers.”

Because some of the wounded were arrested for anti-government activity, they were under heavy guard in special hospitals, and only doctors and lawyers had access to them. Father Lohin had to negotiate to get priests access as well.

“I personally remember entering a (hospital) room in front of which there were about 10 police officers,” he said. “The space between the beds was so small that a person could hardly walk between them. There were two cops in the room and they never left the room. They were constantly on guard there. Patients were not allowed to talk among themselves.”

Father Lohin remembered some patients who had “very serious head injuries.”

“When I walked in, I looked in the eyes of one, and initially there was a blank look, emotionless. Then I saw a spark of hope, and felt like all of a sudden he woke up. Then I realized that our long negotiations with the police were necessary because these people confessed and received the sacraments. So we came on a daily basis.

"I’m confident," he concluded, "that many of these people encountered God for the first time and in that room they found God.”

John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.

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