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Ukrainian Catholic leader: “Russian World” an ideology dressed in church vestments



John Burger - published on 10/23/22

Archbishop Shevchuk urges academics to understand "Russian World" ideology as threat to international and ecumenical relations.

In a video presentation to his alma mater in Rome, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church called on Catholic academia to study the neo-imperial ambitions of the Russian Federation.

“I urge you not to be silent,” Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv said October 19 in a report on the occasion of the start of the new academic year at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. Archbishop Shevchuk, who received a doctorate in moral theology at the Angelicum in 1999, spoke about the ideology of the “Russian World,” which he said is threatening not only his nation but international political and ecumenical relations. 

The Russian World theory, or Russkiy Mir, states that there is a “transnational Russian sphere or civilization, called Holy Russia or ‘Holy Rus,’ which includes Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (and sometimes Moldova and Kazakhstan), as well as ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people throughout the world,” according to a declaration drafted by the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University. “It holds that this ‘Russian world’ has a common political center (Moscow), a common spiritual center (Kyiv as the ‘mother of all Rus’), a common language (Russian), a common Church (the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate), and a common patriarch (the Patriarch of Moscow), who works in ‘symphony’ with a common president/national leader (Putin) to govern this Russian world, as well as upholding a common distinctive spirituality, morality, and culture.”

A “real genocide”

In his address, Archbishop Shevchuk charged that Russia is carrying out a “real genocide of the Ukrainian people.” At the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s February 24 invasion of the country, the Russian press agency RIA Novosti published what Shevchuk called a manual on the genocide of Ukrainians. 

“This is a blatant program of the complete elimination of the Ukrainian nation as such, which [Yale University] historian Timothy Snyder described as one of the most open genocidal documents,” Shevchuk said. “This document clearly calls for the elimination of the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian people.”

“Russian soldiers adhere to every letter of this manual for the destruction of Ukrainians,” he said.

He said that it is “a real shock for us to see the Christian justification of this murderous ideology, to witness complete harmony between the Kremlin authorities and the Russian Orthodox Church. From Patriarch Kirill to the priests who methodically justify these crimes, we see how the Christian faith becomes an ideological tool for promoting Russian Nazism. The justification and call for war on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church are increasingly reminiscent of the doctrine of the Islamic State. Moreover, the leaders of this Church quote it verbatim, although they put it in Christian vestments. Recently, we even see their clergy in liturgical vestments with a grenade launcher in their hands shooting on the battlefield.”

The Ukrainian Catholic leader spoke about his personal experience of what he saw in the territories previously occupied by Russian soldiers. 

“Today, it is obvious to all of us that the evil that has come to our land has a clear ideological component and a specific name — the Russian World,” he said. 

Death in numbers

The Major Archbishop of Kyiv cited statistics from international organizations on the current humanitarian situation in Ukraine. Since the Russian invasion began, 422 children have been killed, and 805 children have been injured. According to the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission, 6,221 civilians were killed, and 9,371 civilians were injured. According to UNICEF in Ukraine, out of 3.2 million children who have been displaced by the war, about 1.6 million children are at risk of living on the brink of hunger and face the risk of food insecurity. Attacks on water infrastructure and power outages have left about 1.4 million people in Ukraine without access to water. Another 4.6 million only have limited access.

“These data, but first of all the personal experience of the war that we are experiencing, show that we are not talking about an ordinary war of one country against another, much less a military operation, but about the real genocide of the Ukrainian people and the terrible crimes against humanity committed by Russian soldiers,” Shevchuk stated.

“If the modern world does not condemn and stop the genocide of the Ukrainian people, tomorrow we will have even more victims, as happened in the past with Nazism and communism,” he said. Further, he said, the Russian World ideology destroys the foundations not only of international law and peaceful coexistence between peoples but also of trust in the Christian faith in a secularized world.

“I invite you to study and work out an intellectual assessment of the causes and consequences of the war in Ukraine,” he told his academic audience, “with special attention to the ideology of the ‘Russian world,’ which is becoming a huge challenge to the credibility of the Christian message and objective truth, a serious threat to international law and peaceful coexistence among peoples. In this way I appeal to all scholars around the world.”

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