XVI. Tribute to the heroes of Euromaidan
The name “Heavenly Hundred” refers to the activists killed during the Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine (especially in Kiev) from 22 January to 20 February 2014. Several of them were Catholics.
The first killings occurred on Unity Day, 22 January 2014, during riots on Hrushevskoho Street in Kiev where three Euromaidan activists were shot dead. On the same day, the dead body of another Euromaidan activist was found on the outskirts of the city; he was kidnapped a day before together with Ihor Lutsenko, who later was released. These were the first victims that died during the demonstrations in Ukraine since it gained independence in 1991. The deaths caused many protests across the country.
Five more deaths occurred between 25 January and 13 February, and the violence started again on 18 February. After a brief truce on 19 February, the clashes started anew on 20 February. The Special Forces’ (Berkut) and Internal Troops’ snipers, who were hiding in nearby buildings shot at people who were participating in Maidan (Square.) The final death toll of the clashes in late February is 103 protesters and 13 policemen. Since then, at least 17 people died of wounds and injuries.
On 21 February 2014 Maidan participants held a service for the eternal rest of the perished protesters, who are now named the Heavenly Hundred.
The Roman Catholic Church was not a bystander during these events. The bishops were present to lead the prayers on Independence square during the Euromaidan revolution. When the police attacked, many people found asylum in St. Alexander pro-cathedral, which was also a place where medical attention was given to the wounded. Many Catholic doctors volunteered in hospitals, saving the lives of the heroes of Euromaidan. Churches were constantly opened during those days so that people could pray for those who were fighting for freedom in Ukraine. These are the testimonies of some participants.
Time is challenging
“Тhe Church played a tremendous role in our struggle: bigger than many politicians put together. We ran to churches when we needed to hide. It was there we went to ring the bells, to help, to rescue… After the fighting in Kiev was over, the Church prayed for those who died, and accompanied us. The Church does not shout and does not strive for power. Everyone underestimated the role of the Church in this region. I have decided that from now on, at least once a week, on Sundays I’ll go to church. And you?” Alex, Kiev.
The Meetings at Maidan, the Sunday prayers, the uninterrupted prayer of the Church day and night, and also the personal example of believers, have done more than years of MPs speeches.
Alex is right: Ukrainian society today really underestimates the role and place of the Church. However, does this mean that the high standards that are now set for the Church are a challenge for us? Is our society ready to become a spiritual family? Yes, we were brought together by danger and grief, but when things settle down, will we stay as active, self-sacrificial, and sharing the same ideals, will we be people, who are not afraid to be called Christians?
There are a few points that need attention. The novelty of the situation lies primarily in the fact that there were new Christians (also newly baptized) in parishes, who needed special attention, support and catechesis. Many of them received the Holy Sacraments quickly, in a state of great emotional stress, some – in danger of death. For them the Church, is the one who battles against evil. They prayed in a tent under the stars, under the snipers’ guns – but many could have abandoned their prayer life, if they stopped noticing the needs of the poor.
Special case – Sunday
Celebrating the Day of the Lord in the community – the joy and luxury to which many people actually got used to during three months. Many parishes stopped being “anonymous circles of fans of the Eucharist” because the congregation together participated in many events, wherever help was needed. Also looking at the wounded and shell-shocked was a real test of strength.
Now the question is about the “community” on all levels: where it was born, and newly formed. Each setting has its own characteristics, but we all have to understand that “going to church” and “being in the Church” – are often different things.
How to be in the Church? The question sounds rhetorical, but we must look for answers. Some parishes organize recreational meetings after the liturgy, some families travel to places where special care is required, at homes for the elderly, orphanages, etc. There are many options, depending on the needs. The bottom line is the same: the administrative unit of the church – the parish – is gradually becoming a community where no one has to hide anonymously.
Families of fallen heroes of Ukraine. Their parents, wives, children … These wounds take a long time to heal, but we should give them maximum attention and provide all the necessary assistance. No wonder the early church deacons individually coordinated the needs of widows and orphans.
Each new day will bring new facts and new details of the tragic events. However, we need to set them aside and learn to live and work in this country, which, although it is going through the hardest times since its independence, it is slowly rising from the ashes.
The situation in Euromaidan helped people to get to know Christ
“… I want to ask you for help. I am from Kiev. A typical “child of the USSR”. Until recently, I was an atheist and infidel”. From the first day he took an active part in the events on in the square.
“On 18 February, I was on Instytutska Street. We repelled three attacks of the “Berkut”, but the fourth attack caused panic. Thousands of people began to flee back to the square and were trapped – from behind the Berkut advanced with a water cannon, and ahead was our own barricade, which had a passage that was only 2 meters wide… There was a lot of older people and women. They began to fall. The crowd instantly became an obstruction for people. I was inside this human debris. Beneath me I could hear some people moaning, and in front of me I could hear others. The “Berkut” began throwing stones and grenades. The water cannons started to shake the barricade. It was a real horror.
Suddenly in front of me was a priest. He was in a black cassock, without headgear. The bottom of the cassock was embroidered in gold on a red background decoration (I do not know what it’s called). He was tall, black-haired, with a shaved face. This man began pulling people (freeing them) from the trap. It did not work (it was impossible). The “Berkut” began to thrash us who were helplessly lying on top of each other. The priest screamed: “Do not hit!”, and continued trying to help. He himself suffered several blows but continued touching our hands, trying to rescue us. I did not see when it all ended. I do not know what happened to him, I do not know who he was or where he was from. However, I am sincerely convinced that in those moments, God have saved me. I was born again! I really want to be baptized and I really want to meet the priest who risked his own life under the bullets in order to save people! I beg you to help me find this man.”
We hope that the person will receive the Holy Baptism regardless of the fact whether he finds that priest or not. Apparently, Independence Square has become a test for the people of the Church. It turned out that what we really know is what we can explain in simple terms.
Yes, the church of St. Alexander hid people running away from the Berkut. Priests, sisters and volunteers were there 24 hours a day. Theological argument is powerless when a mother weeps over her son’s coffin, and the crowd shouts: “Death to the enemy!” Yet priests comforted people, taught them, helped them, heard their confessions …
When we look at the events at Maidan, we can see that the victory brings fruit, but in a hard way, at all levels of our life: personal, social, civic, political… We must honor the victims and support their families with caring love. Moreover, we have to explain to their children what their parents have died for: for the country of honorable, strong and educated people. We have to tell them that the freedom was bought by the blood of those who fought for it. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends – Christ said these words and proved them with his Passion and Resurrection.
Many times people at the square heard: “Christ is risen – Ukraine will rise again.”
So let us make every effort to make this happen.