Ukraine’s priests provide protest inspiration, key link to pre-Soviet era

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The so-called EuroMaidan revolution was born out of the Ukrainian people’s desire to be a part of the EU, said Stojko-Lozynskyj. But it has its roots in the nation’s history, and the ever-present tension between Kiev and Moscow. While about 78 percent of the population is Ukrainian and 18 percent Russian, its financial dependence on Russia has given Moscow greater clout than those numbers might suggest.

Despite an uneasy truce and an agreement by increasingly unpopular President Viktor Yanukovych, an ethnic Russian, to hold new elections, experts say the tinderbox lit in Kiev could continue to burn.

“I think the wheels are coming off the Ukranian government,” Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations told “Yanukovych is clinging to power and he seems to be oscillating between attempts to hold on to that power and realizing that it’s too late and he needs to compromise. It is a no man’s land at this point.”

As the economic situation worsens and the violence spirals, the people of Ukraine are once again looking to their religious leaders and grappling with the age-old dilemma posed by Russia.

hey stand defiant before shield-wielding riot police, clutching gilded crosses and inspiring the freedom-seeking masses in Kiev’s Independence Square.

But the clergy of Ukraine are more than leaders of the protest that threatens to split the nation’s troubled alliance with Russia. They are a link to Ukraine’s historical independence, before the Russian Revolution led to the Soviet occupation that lasted until 1991 but still hovers above like a dark cloud. Amid the escalating violence, priests have been seen defying police, leading civilians safely past them and performing last rites on those killed in the clashes.

“They are there as pastors looking over their flocks,” Roksolana Stojko-Lozynskyj, of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, told “Although they are not in [an official] leadership [role], they are well-respected in the community.”

Priests have even put up makeshift chapels in tents in the square, where crowds have been estimated in the tens of thousands.

Prior to nearly a century of Soviet domination, Ukraine was a deeply religious nation with historic ties to western Europe.

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