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Former Soviet Dissident Shares Views on War in Ukraine


John Burger - published on 11/19/14 - updated on 06/07/17

A conversation with Ukrainian human rights activist Myroslav Marynovych

Ukrainian human rights activist Myroslav Marynovych was in the Kiev rail station the other day, when police cleared the facility because of a bomb threat.

There was no bomb, in fact, but it’s the kind of disturbance that happens almost daily in Ukraine’s larger cities, and Marynovych is convinced the called-in threats are orchestrated by the Kremlin.

This is irratational, it creates a sense that there is no order, there is something dangerous,” said Marynovich in a phone interview from his office at  the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, where he is vice rector for university mission.

How does he know Moscow is behind the disturbances?

I know the logic of this office. I have a long experience of this,” he said.

The fact is, Marynovich, 65, grew up in Soviet Ukraine, and he tussled with the system. He was conscripted into the Red Army in his twenties. He worked to found the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, a group that monitored the Soviet government’s compliance with the 1975 landmark human rights accords, so in 1977, he was arrested as an agitator and sentenced to seven years of hard labor and five years in exile.

“The time in the Soviet gulag happened to be the most difficult, but, at the same time, the most spiritually rewarding in my life,” he said in June, as the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation awarded him the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom in Washington. 

In 1991, Marynovych founded and chaired the Ukrainian chapter of Amnesty International. He is also active in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, of which his grandfather was a priest. 

Marynovych spoke with Aleteia about the effects of the Euromaidan, which began with a protest against then-Presidnt Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to pursue closer ties with Russia rather than the European Union, and evolved into what Ukrainians call the Revolution of Dignity.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has declared Nov. 21 a National Day of Freedom and Dignity. What is planned at the Ukrainian Catholic University to mark the first anniversary of Euromaidan?

This is a great moment for us. I’m happy that this date will be celebrated. We were planning to celebrate even without that decision of our president.  

At the university, on Wednesday (the day of our own university liturgy) we’ll have a liturgy with a special prayer for those who were killed [at Euromaidan, including a young professor from Ukrainian Catholic University]. We will have a big bread to share with the whole community. It’s a Ukrainian tradition to commemorate in this way people who died.

On the 21st, the students will go in one group from the university to the main square of the city, as they went in those days. … In the evening they will have some recollection at the square, showing some videos, people freely going to the mike.

Then a few days later we will have a presentation of a new student film about the voice of young people: what about that voice today?

It was students who started Euromaidan, but later, political parties put young people aside, so something changed in the sense that the language of values was not so articulated as during the youth period of Euromaidan. For us it is important that this voice is still present and still sounded out. 

Our theologians plan to get together and speak about the chaplaincy on the Maidan, this experience, what was important in those days. At the beginning, Church was not so important on the Maidan, but later more and more, especially after the tragedies, this dimension became important.

Where do things stand in Ukraine, one year after all this started?

The trajectory of our expectations changed because of the agression of Russia. At the Maidan no one expected the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Eastern Ukraine. It changed the whole rhetoric of Maidan, because Maidan was clearly about values and reforms

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