Putin a ‘modern Herod’, Ukrainian Catholic Bishop of Australia says

As Russian troops mass along Ukraine's eastern border, Australia's Ukrainian Catholic eparch has accused Vladimir Putin of attempting to reimpose a totalitarian past on the beleaguered nation

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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with co-chairs of his election campaign at the Kremlin in Moscow in 2018. Bishop Mykola Bychok, Eparch of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Australia, has described Putin as a tyrant following the massing of Russian troops along the eastern border of Ukraine. Photo: CNS, Yuri Kadobnov, pool via Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “modern Herod” whose “thirst for power and hegemony” threatens the Ukrainian state’s “pilgrimage to freedom and dignity from the fear of a totalitarian past”, the Eparch of Ukrainian Catholics in Australia, Bishop Mykola Bychok, has said.

In a letter to clergy and faithful of the Church issued on Australia Day, Bishop Bychok drew withering comparisons between the Russian President, who is accused of preparing to invade Ukraine after concentrating troops along the Ukrainian border, and King Herod, who massacred the innocent children of Bethlehem to prevent Jesus Christ from usurping his throne.

“Herod appears, a homicidal tyrant craving hegemony … The Holy Infant, who bringing salvation to all, was a threat to a tyrant pathetically clinging to his self-importance,” Bishop Bychok wrote.

Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, Ukraine, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, places the mire on the head of newly consecrated Bishop Mykola Bychok in Ukraine in 2020. Photo: courtesy Australia Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy

Fears on the rise

Rhetoric over Ukraine has escalated in recent weeks, in the wake of unsuccessful conferences between the Russian President, US President Joe Biden, and European leaders.

Putin alleges that NATO is trying to encircle Russia and intrude into its traditional sphere of influence, while Biden claims Russia is preparing to wage war on Ukraine and has threatened “massive consequences and severe economic costs” in return.

Ukrainians insist they have been at war with Russia since 2014, when in response to the occupation of Maidan Square in Kyiv and the toppling of the pro-Russia government of Viktor Yanukovych, Russia occupied the Crimean peninsula.

A service member of the Ukrainian armed forces is seen at combat positions near the line of separation from Russian-backed rebels outside the town of Avdiivka in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on 25 January 2022. Photo: CNS, Maksim Levin, Reuters

Conflict began in 2014

Through proxies, Russia also controls much of the coal-rich Donets Basin in Eastern Ukraine. Fighting continues along the border between territory controlled by the so-called “Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics”, named for the two major cities of the region, and the Ukrainian central government.

Bishop Bychok quoted President Putin’s belief that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”, adding that for Putin “nostalgia for an empire lost” and a “prison house of nations” is a greater tragedy than the lives lost during the Holocaust, the Soviet Gulags or the Great Leap forward.

“Ukrainian society has lived under a cloud of mourning and grief,” since the 2014 invasion, Bishop Bychok wrote.

A woman reacts inside her home damaged during a military conflict between militants of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Ukrainian armed forces on 27 July. Photo: CNS, Alexander Ermochenko, Reuters

Costs of eight years of conflict

“After eight years of war initiated by Russia, Ukraine has lost a substantial part of its territory. 14,000 people, including children, have been killed, 1.5 million have been internally displaced, several hundred thousand agonise near the frontline, and millions suffer from post-traumatic stress.

“There are 400,000 traumatised veterans of the Ukrainian-Russian war and thousands who have lost their loved-ones.”

Pope Francis has appealed for peace in Ukraine, praying that “the country may grow in the spirit of brotherhood and that all hurts, fears and divisions will be overcome” and called for a day of prayer for peace in Ukraine on January 26.

Bishop Mykola Bychok participates in the liturgy following his consecration as the Eparch of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Australia in 2020. Photo: courtesy Australia Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy

Ukrainian Catholic, Orthodox leaders on the same page

The Patriarch of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Sviatoslav Shevchuk, issued a firm statement with the Polish Bishops’ Conference, saying “the Russian Federation—in its violation of Ukraine’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity—disregards the binding rules of international law”.

“The present situation demands Christians of the Eastern and Western tradition to assume their full responsibility for the present and future of our continent and to be ready to make sacrifices in defense of the communities of family, nation, and state.”

The Primate of the newly-autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epifaniy Dumenko, also issued a statement calling on Ukraine to “fight and defend ourselves and our native land until victory!”

Caritas appeal

Bishop Bychok concluded his appeal with exhortations to pray, give humanitarian support and remain informed “in a public debate being warped by Russian disinformation”.

Caritas Ukraine said in a statement that since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014 their organisation has helped over 800,000 people, including displaced persons and those living without necessities close to the frontline.

“Today, we are continuing our preparations, making use of the experience gained over the last eight years – expanding readiness to different field offices in the whole territory of Ukraine,” said Andrii Postnikov, Head of Humanitarian Programs Caritas Ukraine.

“The key to our humanitarian preparedness is our mission-driven staff of the local centres.”

To donate to Caritas Ukraine, click here.

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