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Ukrainian Church faces 'eradication' if Russia wins

Archbishop asks Catholics to pray and ignore disinformation spread throughout the war

Published: February 26, 2024   
OSV News photo/Bob Roller
Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia speaks during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington March 14, 2023.

As Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine reaches the two-year mark Feb. 24, OSV News sat down with Metropolitan Archbishop Borys A. Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia, who recently returned from his latest visit to Ukraine, for his insights on the war.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


OSV News: After two years of full-scale invasion and 10 years of aggression by Russia, how would you describe the overall outlook of the Ukrainian people?

Archbishop Gudziak: It's really quite amazing, because there's so much devastation, there's so much death, there's so much displacement, and yet the people are pretty clear in their resolve. ... There are principles we have to defend, and we really don't have any choice, because wherever there is Russian occupation, there is genocide. So, if we don't defend ourselves, we'll be killed.

We know we have to get the job done. We need help to get that job done, but we know nobody is going to send troops to help us in Ukraine.

We gave up our nuclear arsenal unilaterally in 1994 (under the Budapest Memorandum), receiving security pledges and guarantees from the United States, Great Britain and Russia, who (promised) not only to not invade or demonstrate aggression, but to not even use economic power to shake the sovereignty or independence of Ukraine. ... You had the global community applauding the first nuclear disarmament.

(But now) Ukraine's territorial integrity, its sovereignty has been violated brutally. Ukrainians realize they have to defend themselves and they will do so.


OSV News: How does the current war fit into the long record of Russian aggression against Ukraine and, in particular, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church?

Archbishop Gudziak: It's the present image of what happened in Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka, Mariupol (sites of recent Russian mass atrocities in Ukraine). But it's also the history. There were ... millions killed by wars, genocide and genocidal policies like the Holodomor or the Holocaust.

All of this at the hands, in one form or another, of totalitarian powers, or wars that were generated by empires.

(Russian President Vladimir) Putin has said there is no such thing really as Ukraine, there isn't a separate independent Ukrainian people, (and) the Ukrainian language is just a dialect. All of that will be erased, and it's not a question of hypothesis.

The Ukrainian Catholic Church gets eradicated as a legal, visible entity every time there's a Russian occupation. It happened in the 18th century. It happened a few times in the 19th century as the Russian Empire grew or consolidated its hold on territory after the partitions of Poland. The Tsarists ... came to Lviv (and) arrested and deported the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church to Russia. The Soviets did it in the 20th century. And now we see it (happening) in the occupied territories.


OSV News: What can Catholics do to support Ukraine at this moment?

Archbishop Gudziak: First of all, we should pray. The Lord is the Lord of history. ... And I've seen too many miracles. Our Church was illegal for 45 years ... it was decimated. Today, 35 years later, there are 3,000 priests again, and we have the youngest episcopacy and clergy in the world.

Second, be informed. There's a lot of disinformation. Ukrainians are very grateful to all who pray, who advocate and who help. There's a special respect for America. (Ukrainians are) going to fight and defend God-given principles, God-given dignity, so that our children and grandchildren don't have to suffer. ... We have to stop (Russia's aggression), no matter what the cost.

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