'Resurrection of Christianity in Ukraine'. Prof. Jaroslav Skira on Religion And Politics, and Newly-Created Orthodox Church of Ukraine

How The Stars Aligned And The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Unified. Marta Dyczok Speaks To Historical Theologian Prof. Skira

Show hosts

Marta Dyczok,

Bohdan Nahaylo

Гостi

Jaroslav Skira

'Resurrection of Christianity in Ukraine'.  Prof. Jaroslav Skira on Religion And Politics, and Newly-Created Orthodox Church of Ukraine
https://static.hromadske.radio/2018/12/hr-uc-2018-12-22.mp3
https://static.hromadske.radio/2018/12/hr-uc-2018-12-22.mp3
'Resurrection of Christianity in Ukraine'. Prof. Jaroslav Skira on Religion And Politics, and Newly-Created Orthodox Church of Ukraine
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Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of Ukraine Calling. I’m Bohdan Nahaylo for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv and we’re bringing you our feature in-depth interview followed by some new music from Ukraine.

This week’s interview is with historical theologian Prof. Jaroslav Skira. Marta Dyczok asks him about the background and significance of the newly created Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

FEATURE INTERVIEW: Religion And Politics: How The Stars Aligned And The Ukrainian Orthodox Church Unified. Marta Dyczok Speaks To Historical Theologian Prof. Skira

Dyczok: Ukraine hit the international headlines again, but with a good news story. It created an independent Orthodox Church on Sunday, the 15th of December. To explain how this happened and what it means, we have with us Professor Jaroslav Skira. He’s a leading expert on Eastern Christianity. He’s the acting director of the Metropolitan Andrey Sheptyts’ky Institute of Eastern Christian Studies, at the Faculty of Theology at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. And he’s also associate professor of historical theology at Regis College. Thank you very much for finding the time to speak to us, Professor Skira.

Skira: Thank you very much. I’m glad to be on the radio with you and to make your acquaintance.

Dyczok: Thank you. Now let’s start with the what. An event happened in Kyiv last Sunday that some are calling historic. Can you remind our listeners of Hromadske Radio’s Ukraine Calling exactly what happened?

Jaroslav Skira Picture regiscollege.ca

Skira: On December the 15th, in St. Sophia church in Ukraine, a unifying Sobor, or council, happened that brought together a number of Ukrainian Orthodox bishops, clergy, and laity, towards the healing of schisms that have been plaguing the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches over the last 100 years. And this essentially was an attempt to bring these various Churches and clergy and laity into a unified structure. And here when I talk about a unifying council, I’m referring to three major jurisdictions in Ukraine, which was: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the so-called Moscow Patriarchate, and then there were two other Churches called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate, and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. And those last two were seen as being in schism by global Orthodox Christianity for many years.

Dyczok: Sorry to interrupt; can you explain to our listeners why there were three Orthodox Churches in Ukraine until now? And what schism is?

Skira: Certainly. Ukraine had been attempting for many years to establish nationhood, and with that nationhood was an attempt to establish a singular Ukrainian Orthodox Church on the territories of Ukraine. And these attempts date back to the 1920’s right up to today. And what had happened in most recent times, is that because of the Soviet revolution, and the rise of communism in the Soviet Union, the Ukrainian Churches, both the Orthodox and the Eastern Catholics, were suppressed and subsumed under the Russian Orthodox Church. And it was only until Ukraine declared independence in 1991 that there emerged a Ukrainian Orthodox Church that would be proper to Ukraine. And that Church began to seek independence from the Russian Orthodox Church. And through various attempts at independence, or what we would call autocephaly, that is, self-governance, there were disagreements amongst some of the clergy and with Moscow, which led to a schism, which basically means a division within a Church. And part of that group that remained faithful to being in communion with the Russian Orthodox Church, and part of the group formed what is known as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Kyivan Metropolitanate, or the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. And it’s those last two Churches that were considered to be out of communion, or in schism with the rest of Orthodoxy.

Dyczok: What does that actually mean? Sorry to interrupt. They’re out of communion, in schism, does that mean they’re illegal, illegitimate? And again, why, there’s the Russian Orthodox Church, and then there’s these Ukrainian Orthodox Churches that are in schism. Explain what that actually means.

Skira: The basic principle of unity within Orthodox Christianity is that a Church is canonical. By canonical I mean it is recognized by the other Churches, it’s recognized in its celebration of sacraments. You can go from one Church to another Church and take the Eucharist and pray with them. Being in schism, or division, means that you are not recognized by these other Churches. And so, it’s a form of disunity. And if you use a modern analogy from politics it’s like one state not recognizing the existence of another country; not recognizing its borders or its government, and that’s what effectively happened to a significant portion of the Ukrainian Orthodox faithful in Ukraine. And this unifying council on December the 15th was meant to heal those divisions and to bring those various groups into a recognized canonical body.

Dyczok: Thank you. That actually explains things really clearly. So why did it take so long for this to happen? Ukraine declared independence in 1991, and this unification happens in 2018. What were some of the obstacles? Why did it take so long?

Skira: Part of the issue has to do with Ukraine as an emerging state or country after the fall of the Soviet Union.  In many ways it was still under the control of the kind of colonial imperial powers of Russia. It was still learning to walk on its own feet. And so, you not only had these kind of remnants of Russian imperial colonialism, but you also had this same thing within the Church structures. In the 1990’s there were attempts to establish an independent Orthodox Church, and those attempts failed. And that’s kind of where we are today. You didn’t have unanimity among the various Orthodox clergy and bishops; you didn’t have the goodwill amongst those who are in the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to establish a distinct structure. And Ukraine was still a developing nation. So really, the process that we see today is the process of maturation, where you have not only the state reaching a point where it recognizes it wants to affirm its membership within a European Union; it wants to rid itself of corruption; it wants to function in democratic means; it also wants to shake off the tutelage of any influence from Russia. And with that comes the maturation also in the consciousness of its believers, who have been seeking for many years to regain this kind of canonical status, where they would enter into unity with other Christians.

So, from the Christian perspective, the problem is really a sin of Christian division, where you do not recognize a fellow Christian as being a part of your Church, or not fully part of your Church. There are many layers to why this has happened, and this just seems to be a time where you have the alignment of the stars, so to speak, that provided an opportune situation. And part of the opportunity is really something that had backfired for Russia and for the Russian Orthodox Church. In wanting to still continue to keep the Ukrainian Church under its tutelage, the war in eastern Ukraine and Crimea has effectively put a wedge between any goodwill or symbiosis that Ukrainians would have had in Russians. And that has further pushed Ukraine into developing this consciousness, akin to what happened during the Euromaidan movement, where you had people wanting to affirm their own dignity, they wanted to affirm their independence, they wanted to affirm their freedom, and to remove any shackles of this kind of neo-colonial imperial past, and to affirm that they were a Ukrainian nation and people. And again, coming with that also includes the idea of the Church. Wanting to affirm that it is a Church that is meant to minister to the people on the territories of Ukraine.

Dyczok: Well, politics and religion have a very close relationship, as you’ve just been saying. To what degree is the decision that was reached in the unification of the Church is this a political decision? Is this a religious decision? Is it a little bit of both? And is the significance more political, or religious?

Skira: I think you have to recognize that this is primarily at root an issue based within the Church and the faithful. Here you have the Churches wishing to affirm that they are a distinct entity within global Christianity; that they want to minister to their own faithful; that they want to be in unity with other Christians. So, this is part of a broader movement within global Orthodoxy. It’s also a political issue because this is a way where the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Ukraine itself will see itself as kind of casting off any vestiges of ‘soft power’ influence that the Russian government and the Russian Church would have in Ukraine. And so, this unifying Sobor was held in St. Sophia, which is a very symbolic place because in Constantinople, or Istanbul, there is this major church also called Hagia [St.] Sophia, which was traditionally the centre of the ecumenical patriarchate. And the ecumenical patriarch exercises a leadership role within all of the independent Orthodox Churches, and he’s recognized as a senior, an elder, among the Orthodox Churches.

And this was also recognition on the Ecumenical Patriarch’s side that he must do something to heal this schism and division within global Christianity, within global Orthodoxy and Christianity. And like I said before, this is a kind of an alignment of all the stars in this situation that have come to the fore, that really brought this Church to this Council. And I think when you look at the videos and the images from the actual Sobor itself, in answer to your question, you’ll look at the head table of all the delegates, and in the centre is the Metropolitan Emmanuel of France, who is representative of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, who is chairing this session. To his left is Patriarch or Metropolitan Filaret, who was the leader of the major Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Kyivan Patriarchate. And sitting to the Chair’s right, was the President of Ukraine, Poroshenko.

And when they announced later on who the new Patriarch or Metropolitan of the newly established Ukrainian Church would be, and his name is [Metropolitan] Epiphaniy, on stage were two representatives of the Ukrainian government. In answer to your question, is it primarily a religious or ecclesial issue? But that is tied very closely, obviously, within these Eastern bloc countries, to nationhood and statehood, and part of the culture of an identity of a particular peoples.

Dyczok: There’s also a historical dimension to this. You’re a professor of historical theology and you mentioned St Sophia and Constantinople. The actual announcement of the Sobor happened in front of St Sophia in Kyiv. This is a symbolic historical spot for Ukraine. If you could again just explain to our listeners the ancient history of all of this. The separation from the Russian Church. The Orthodox Church in Ukraine, is it not older than the Russian Orthodox Church? And what is the symbolic significance of this separation, if you will.

Skira: Certainly. 988 is traditionally taken to be the year in which Ukraine accepted Christianity from Byzantium. And Ukraine at that time was known as Kyivan Rus. And Byzantinium was the major Empire at the time, which had its central capital city within Constantinople, which is modern-day Istanbul. And in that city was their major church, which was called Hagia Sophia, or Saint Sophia. And so the ancient Ukrainian state and communities received Christianity from Byzantium. And eventually they built their own Saint Sophia Church in Kyiv in the 11th century. And that is the inheritor of that Church that we’re talking about today. And in a sense, that transplantation of Christianity, the inheritance of Christianity from the Byzantine Empire into the Slavic lands, really has its roots within Kyiv, within ancient Ukraine.

And it begins so that this process of development and expansion through Ukraine and north and north-eastwards, towards Belorussia as well as the Principalities of Muscovy, which eventually turned into this kingdom of Tsars and eventually modern-day Russia. And so, the historic development, which is in part contested by Russian Orthodoxy and some of the ideology of the Russkiy Mir within Russian Orthodoxy, and even within President Putin’s mythology of this Russian State emerging out of this 988 event. In reality, the historical origins of Christianity in Ukraine, Russia and Belorussia are really traced to their roots in Kyiv in Ukraine.

Dyczok: If I could summarize what you said, Christianity comes to Kyiv in 988 and in 2018 Ukraine reclaims its mantle as its own Church. So it’s not perhaps a schism, but it’s a reclaiming. How will this all affect individual believers? We talk about churches and history and politics, but it’s really about people who go to church and worship. So this big decision was taken, this big change happened at the highest levels. Will this affect the way people are worshipping in Orthodox parishes?

Skira: I think the primary reason for any attempts to heal disunity or schisms in a church are so that one can be in unity with other Christians. You have these multiple jurisdictions, villages which had two or three churches, and even families that were split among various jurisdictions.

And formally, they could not participate in each other’s weddings, be baptized by their priests, or intermarry or receive the Eucharist. And for Christianity, these are important markers of Christian unity. So, at that level, believers will begin to see that there is this unified Church, which restores these dimensions of communion. As a caveat to that, because the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchy, the Russian Orthodox Church, has formally broken off Communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate and anybody associated with the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Dyczok: This is in Constantinople?

Skira: In effect, the Russian Orthodox Church has introduced a formal break in Communion or Schism as a result of these unifying attempts by Constantinople and Kyiv to heal the Schism.

The other dimension of this unity is that you will have a parallel jurisdiction in some places, where people will want to maintain their own ecclesial affiliation, whether that be Russian Orthodox, whether that be Ukrainian Orthodox, but at least they will have these options for this one unified church.

They may notice some differences in the commemoration, of which bishops get commemorated in the liturgy. Some of the churches will be adopting the modern Ukrainian vernacular, and some will retain the older Church Slavonic, which was used in parts of the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches. And some may actually use Russian.

But the whole point of all of this, is to say that there will be perceived differences amongst these believers. But as with any major changes like this, this may take some time to really trickle down in the consciousness of individual believers. There’s a lot of disinformation going on in Ukraine. There’s some mistrust based upon the past historical period of Ukraine being under the Soviet regime. And so, this will be a slow transformation. And some parishes have already signaled their move over. And for some it may take a little bit of time. Some may delay.

But I think over time you will begin to see this larger one unified structure of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, which will presumably also respect religious pluralism of other Christian traditions within Ukraine. Like the Ukrainian Eastern Catholics, the Roman Catholics, – the Russian Orthodox Church will still be there, – as well as other non-Christian faith traditions.

Dyczok: Professor Skira, you have been organizing a very interesting series of talks at the University of Toronto on this issue of Orthodoxy and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. One thing I learned is that orthodox church parishes have decision-making power that perhaps other churches like the Catholic Church have less of.  Can you talk a little bit about what was happening at the parish level in the lead-up to this unifying gathering or Sobor, and if you have a sense of how many parishes were in favour of this unification and what we actually saw at the Sobor? How many parishes from the Church that was loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate joined this unified Ukrainian Church?

Skira: I think that’s a very good question, and the short and quick answer is, some parishes were quick to want to signal their intent to join the new Church or want to be part of the unified Church. Some may have split. There are examples where you have the church doors locked and the community shares to all the buildings on the church property because of such a division. And some will retain being in the Church of their origin for now. In terms of history, one must recognize that what has happened and now up to fairly recently, has been happening fairly quickly in terms of historical time. We’re looking at a period that began in April, in the spring of this year, which reached a climax in September and then formally reached clarity with a Unifying Council in December.

Dyczok: Quite amazing for an Orthodox Church, for any Church to move that quickly.

Skira: It certainly is. But it’s too difficult to say at this point. We need more information. I think some churches will wait still to move over. It’s important to remember here that this unifying council has not quite finished its work. December 15th [2018] was the council that elected Metropolitan Epiphaniy as its Primate. The Primate had a speech where he welcomed others to join in Christian union within this newly erected church, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, which is its formal title. But there is still a process, where the church has been told that on January 6th they must visit the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople to receive the final statutes, the declaration. It’s called the Tomos. This will declare this church as being self-governed, or Autocephalous. That will really be the final step in this process. I think some churches may be sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see what happens, and whether this church will be recognized fully as an Autocephalous church. Then I think you’ll have a slow migration of churches [parishes] to this newly created church. Certainly, a majority of people in the church have come from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate. The statistics from not long ago placed that church [Kyivan] as having over eight and a half million believers, whereas the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Partiarchate had just under four million. So, the larger church, the one that actually was considered to be in division [schism] is the one that wanted to move towards unity.

Dyczok: Does the door remain open for those who are sitting on the fence? Can they join later?

Skira: Absolutely! I think that is a message that has been quite clear from the newly elected Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Dyczok: Do we have a sense of how many parishes from the Moscow Patriarchate joined this newly created church? Or is it too early to tell?

Skira: We do have some indications. When you look at some of the news reports, the reporting has been somewhat scant about who attended, the names of people, the total number of delegates. So, I did find a source that spoke about there being about a hundred and ninety delegates to the Sobor. And if you think that every bishop was allowed to bring a representative from the clergy or the laity, so that roughly puts it at about 60 bishops, maybe even more, who attended this unifying Sobor. The majority would have been from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriatchate. The next largest group would have been from the Ukrainian Orthodox Autocephalous Church. And based upon some recent condemnations by the Russian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate we do know that two bishops were formally condemned and removed from their ministries. So, we know that at least two Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate were at this Sobor. There’s quite possibly a third one who had indicated his attempt to be part of this church but was not one of those condemned, so possibly there’s a third one. I suspect there may be more, but this is only a few days after the Sobor and some of the details of the attendees have not been released just yet.

Dyczok: Interesting. So, a very important step has been taken, but there are other steps to be taken. What do you see as potential obstacles to this process, if there are any? Or at this point is it just a matter of sorting out the details?

Skira: Well, if you look at institutional renewal, and here I’m talking in purely secular terms, when you look at institutional renewal, if you want some change from an existing leadership you appoint somebody new. And that’s what happened with the appointment of Metropolitan Epiphany. He was a candidate who would have been widely acceptable by a majority of the bishops who voted in favour of him. There were two rounds of voting and he clearly came out at the top. So, as a unifying factor he may be able to give this church a fresh start, a center of unity. Some of the obstacles, though, will be if internal conflicts will continue to exist among the bishops over jurisdiction, over territory. The question will be who owns which property? There are a lot of church properties and associated buildings, monasteries. So, there might be some conflicts that may arise. We also have to deal with the treat of localized acts of violence, from subtle coercion to actual physical violence. And, of course, what worries all Ukrainians is the increasing military build-up on its borders by the Russian government, which has shown that it is not afraid to intervene and disrupt not only other democracies but particularly Ukraine.

And the final [possible] obstacle, Ukraine hopes that other Orthodox churches will recognize the existence of this new Ukrainian Orthodox Church and will acknowledge the efforts of the Ecumenical Patriarch to bring about Christian unity within Ukraine. This is a very important issue, that the other orthodox churches recognize this new Ukrainian church. Because in many ways they are all independent entities, they function in this communion which is led by the Ecumenical Patriarch. So, this process of recognition and not rejection of this new Ukrainian Orthodox Church will be important.

Dyczok: When is that going to happen?

Skira: This usually is a process, it takes time.

Dyczok: So, after January they will have a certain amount of time for individual churches to…

Skira: The process has already begun, because some of the Synods have been meeting, they have been saying ‘we need more dialogue between the Ecumenical Patriarch and the Russians and Ukrainians, don’t  introduce further divisions.’ So, this process of reception has already begun. But I think it’s too far along to turn back. So, there may be a process where a number of the orthodox churches will say, ‘yes, we recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, we bring them back into communion, we wish to celebrate Christian unity and unity in the faith with these other groups.’ So, churches like the Romanians, it will be important to hear what they say, the Church of Antioch. We do know that some of the churches will side with the Russian Orthodox Church, like the Belarussian Church, perhaps even the Serbian Church. And again, I go back to my analogy of political states to recognize the borders, the existence of a government requires a recognition by other entities. And once you’re recognized, you can start functioning, being invited to councils, you can pray together, and you can exist in harmony. If you would pardon me bringing in this secular analogy. This will be a process. As I’ve said before, this has been a very quick process, from April until now, leading up to it. In some ways it’s a brilliant process done by the Ecumenical Patriarch because it’s unfolded in steps, it’s been collegial, it’s been consultative. There’s been a lot of lobbying on both sides, particularly on the Russian Orthodox side which has been in opposition to granting Ukraine autocephaly. And I think it’s important to point out that the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate has never formally asked for independence. It’s constantly asking the Ecumenical Patriarch not to interfere in its affairs, but it’s still functioning as kind of a subsidiary to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Dyczok: Thank you for that analogy, that of a new state declaring independence requiring recognition. I think that clarifies things for people who are not religious experts. I have three more questions for you, but I don’t know if we’ll have time for all of them, so I’ll throw the questions at you and you answer whichever ones you want. I’m very curious what your assessment is of the newly elected head of this newly created Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This is a young man, who has a lot of energy, but perhaps unknown to many listeners. The other this is, what do you think will happen with the Monastery of the Caves, the jewel of the crown of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, the Orthodox world. And thirdly, what, if any, actions do you expect from the Russian side?

Skira: Well, from the Russian side, the reaction has already come. They have had their own Sobor, or Council, and they’ve condemned the activities in Ukraine. They won’t recognize the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. They have already effective said that they’re breaking communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch and everyone who is associated with him. So, this shows the disagreement, or conflict, between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and Russia. Politically, I’ve already alluded to the fact that violence from Russia is very much a reality for the Ukrainians.

As for the newly elected Metropolitan Epiphany, he comes from a church that’s in an area that’s not too far from Kyiv. He’s the Metropolitan of Pereiaslav and Bila Tserkva…

Dyczok: Historical sites!

Skira: This is an episcopal area where he would reside and have ministry. But he was also a member and Abbot in the monastery there. And Rector of the Kyiv Theological Academy. So, he has leadership qualities, as others have recognized that he should be the Patriarch of the Church. It’s also a somewhat risky move, given his relative youth. [Metropolitan Epiphany is thirty-nine years old]

Dyczok: Oh, I think it’s a great move! Do you remember how old Filaret was when he was appointed [head of the Orthodox Church in Ukraine]? Thirty-Seven!

Skira: Indeed!

Dyczok: He [newly elected Metropolitan Epiphany] is older than Filaret was when he was appointed!

Skira: Indeed. So, there will be many years of him being at the helm of the church. Hopefully that energy that he has, and his relative youth will translate into an energy that will reinvigorate the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. And you had a third question?

Dyczok: About the Monastery of the Caves, Pechers’ka Lavra. If you have a crystal ball, what do you see happening with that?

Skira: Pochaiivs’ka and Pechers’ka Lavra are the two holy sites within Ukraine. And currently they have been delegated to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Moscow Patriarchate, which, I think, for the interim basis will continue to exercise their stewardship over those areas. Some of the buildings on those two sites, however, are not in the possession of the church, and they are state-controlled, or state-owned. So, what I think the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian church will probably do is to affirm their right to these sites. And, I think, over time, the churches that are not directly part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church will be slowly asked to move, to relocate elsewhere.

Dyczok: Let’s hope that all happens peacefully. Is there anything you would like to add? Maybe I’ve forgotten something?

Skira: I think we’ve covered most of the points. Again, this is a very historic moment that has happened very quickly. I think this is a very positive moment, it’s part of the maturation of the Ukrainian state. But more importantly, it’s part of the unifying attempts to bring the church in Ukraine into one body, after years of divisions, after years of persecution and repression. So, this is a moment, in a sense, of resurrection of Christianity in Ukraine. And I hope that it will continue to spur a further renaissance within Ukraine, this historical Kyivan-Rus’, of Christianity, for many centuries to come.

Dyczok: And it comes at a time when the Christian world is getting ready to celebrate Christmas and New Year. So, it’s almost like a Christmas present that has come to Ukraine. We’ve been speaking with Prof. Jaroslav Skira, from the University of Toronto, an expert on eastern theology. Thank you very much for your insight, hope to have you on the show again.

Skira: It was my pleasure, thank you very much.

NEWS

Independent Church

Ukrainian Orthodox Christian priests selected a 39-year-old bishop to lead newly independent church. Priests gathered in Ukraine’s most prominent 11th century St. Sophia Cathedral early December 15 and for eight hours celebrated the liturgy and discussed the status of the new church and elected as leader the Metropolitan of Kiev and Ukraine Epifaniy, also known as Serhiy Dumenko.

Ships in Azov

Ukraine will send warships back to its Azov Sea ports again, despite Russia’s seizure of three navy vessels and their crew in the area last month, – Oleksandr Turchynov, secretary of the Council of national security and defense said. He added that Kiev would invite representatives of the transatlantic military alliance NATO and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on board next time to prove Ukraine was not violating any regulations.

Support from Allies

HMS Echo, a multi-role, oceanographic survey ship from the British Royal Navy docked in Ukraine’s southeastern coastal city of Odesa on December 19. It is the first NATO warship to enter the Black Sea since Russian ships attacked Ukrainian naval vessels on Nov. 25, illegally seizing three boats and arresting 24 Ukrainian sailors, who still remain imprisoned in Moscow. The ship was also intended to support the planned deployment of U.K. Royal Marine commandos to Ukraine for training efforts with the Ukrainian military under the so-called mission, Operation Orbital.

New provocations

Pro-Russian terrorists and certain Russian media are spreading fake reports claiming Ukraine forces are preparing an offensive near Mariupol, including with the use of chemical weapons, according to Deputy Minister of Information Policy of Ukraine, Dmytro Zolotukhin. The Russian side has crystallized the strategy of yet another disinformation operation, which could result in a full-scale provocation by the Kremlin, which Sergei Lavrov (Russian Foreign Minister) has «scheduled» in his interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda for «the last decade of December». Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Security Service has reported on the arrest of three sabotage groups deployed by Russia’s military intelligence in eastern Ukraine.

New $3.9 billion for Ukraine

The International Monetary Fund approved a new $3.9 billion bailout program for Ukraine to stabilize the economy and help the government pay back its debts. The board provided with the first $1.4 billion disbursement. It’s part of the 14-month stand-by program, which replaces a bailout that suffered long delays as the government failed to implement the reforms necessary to release the cash.

The program focuses on maintaining macro-economic stability, notably through continued fiscal consolidation and inflation reduction. This will be accompanied by targeted reforms to strengthen tax administration, governance, the financial and energy sectors and fighting corruption.

MUSIC

‘A Rosary for Victory.’ ‘Вервиця на перемогу’. That’s the name of a song By Fata Morgana UA. A band led by Ihor Roman. He’s from Horlivka, a town in the part of Donets’k currently controlled by anti-Ukrainian forces. When the war just began in 2014, he was captured by them and detained in a basement. Eventually he was released and made it to Kyiv, where he found a few other musicians and they formed Fata Morgana UA. This song was premiered on Hromadske Radio in May. But with religion in the news again, we thought you’d enjoy it this week.

LOOKING FORWARD

Hromadske Radio is facing a financial crunch and is appealing to listeners for support. Should you feel inclined to donate to keep this project going, please see the link to the crowdfunding campaign.

And we would be happy to receive any feedback from you. Write to us at: [email protected] This is Bohdan Nahaylo for Hromadske Radio in Kyiv. Thanks so much for listening.

Interview transcribed by Marta Dyczok, Caitilin O’Hare, and Oksana Smerechuk. News by Ira Zolomko. Music by Andriy Kulykov. Sound engineers Andriy Izdryk and Adam Courts. E-mail distribution Ilona Sviezhentseva. Web support by Kyrylo Loukerenko. Special thanks 94.9 CHRW Radio Western