ROME (CNS) — Propaganda and fear were the sparks that ignited the conflict in eastern Ukraine, a conflict that has become a real war, said a Jesuit military chaplain.
“In Ukraine you can see how distortion of truth, how perversion of reality, can actually cause a real war where people are killed — innocent people are killed,” said Jesuit Father Andriy Zelinskyy.
He said the situation in Ukraine turned into a war because Russia’s media and government manipulated ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine into thinking that peaceful demonstrations for democracy and closer ties with Europe were just the tip of an iceberg of anti-Russian sentiment.
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Father Zelinskyy, who said he was present when the protests in Kiev’s Maidan — or Independence — Square began in November 2013 and throughout the protest, said, “I was always surprised by the nonsense one could hear from the Russian media.”
In an interview conducted by the Ukrainian Catholic Church’s Zhyve.tv on behalf of Catholic News Service, the Jesuit said the Maidan protests in Kiev marked “a birth time for our nation,” a mostly peaceful revolution that saw citizens demanding a government that respects their dignity, freedom and rights as citizens.
At this point, he said in the late-July interview, “we do have a real war, a war which is caused artificially, a war which is caused by propaganda.”
People who were part of the Russian empire for centuries, and are still influenced by Russia although they have been Ukrainian citizens since 1991, were living in fear and believed they needed to defend themselves, he said. And then, they were joined by and further incited by “mercenaries,” people paid to go to eastern Ukraine and fight against the Ukrainian army.
Father Zelinskyy, who has served as a military chaplain for the past eight years, said all the troops “realize that the things taking place in the eastern part of Ukraine, this whole crisis, the military crisis, is not only a Ukrainian issue, it is an international crisis.”
Too many people in the world, he said, think the crisis is a conflict between differing Ukrainian political parties or political views, when it is a war over Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity.
Even under Soviet rule, tensions existed between Ukrainians and Russians.
Asked how the church can help prevent hatred and fear of Russians, he said, “there’s only one way to fight fear and hatred, and that is with love. But love, in order to be love, must be a very responsible way of fighting for life, for truth, for human dignity.”
Referring to his troops, he said, “our young guys are risking their lives there, not in order to fight for certain political projects; they are standing there to protect the most sacred human values, such as human life, human dignity, human rights for freedom and a right to live, to develop and to create a future for their own country.”
The role of the churches, he said, is to promote healing and reconciliation, first of all by helping people recognize the truth.