Ukrainian priest speaks on human dignity, inner transformation of afflicted country

BY OLIVIA SIELAFF
Assistant Editor

Photo by Theresa Baker
Photo by Theresa Baker

The Ukraine, shaken by political turmoil and violence against civilians, is experiencing what’s been coined the “revolution of dignity,” said a visiting Ukrainian priest Feb. 27 at Franciscan University of Steubenville.

The Rev. Yuriy Sakvuk gave a talk to students, faculty and staff on the current situation in Ukraine, emphasizing the natural human rights Ukrainians are demanding and the transformation his country is undergoing.

Sakvuk likened this transformation to the Biblical flight from Egypt into the Promised Land.

The Ukraine is on “pilgrimage from empire of fear to kingdom of dignity,” Sakvuk said.

It has been on pilgrimage to secure Western values since the outbreak of protests in November 2013, following former President Yanukovich’s refusal to strengthen ties with the European Union.

Among those Western values, freedom is the most principal right of every human being, Sakvuk said

“It’s more important than life itself. That’s why so many people went and suffered,” he said.

Now, in light of Yanukovich’s indictment for a large number of civilian deaths after a bloody conflict in Kiev last week, Ukrainians are undergoing further hardship.

In particular, Sakvuk focused on the involvement and witness of students from Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) in L’viv, where he is director of Spiritual Life and Pastoral Ministry.

Sakvuk said UCU students were the first to peacefully protest in November for truth and human dignity.

Since then, over 1,000 from UCU have been injured, some are still missing, others have been unjustly judged, and one professor was charged in court, Sakvuk said.

“People are asking ‘Why do we have to suffer? Why such oppression? Why so many deaths? Where was God?’” Sakvuk said. “I am saying to my students, ‘There is no resurrection without cross.’”

Sakvuk’s spiritual emphasis gave new meaning to Ukraine’s transformation. He said God gave great gifts to Ukraine in the past, referencing their independence in 1991 and the 2004 Orange Revolution.

“God is among us and he is giving us a new chance,” Sakvuk said. “He again gives us a new gift.”

This new gift will not come from a change in political personalities, Sakvuk said. “It has to take place not in the main square, but in ourselves.”

To strengthen this inner transformation, the bishop of L’viv called for strict fasting and prayer in all homes.

Likewise, Sakvuk said the most important thing American students can do now is pray. He noted that Franciscan University was one of the first universities to send UCU a statement of support.

“The promised land is not achieved yet,” Sakvuk said. “There are plenty of things that need to be done.”

However, in closing, Sakvuk encouraged all to live the reality of victory.

“From the beginning of creation, God has expelled evil,” he said. “And from the cross, God has already won.”

“This talk was one of hope,” said Lynda Bunnell, a senior psychology major.

Bunnell also said she tried putting this situation into context. “I can get a bad test grade and ask ‘Why God?’ But it’s very powerful to see (Ukrainian students) taking faith in God.”

Luke Iyengar, president of the Byzantine Catholic Club on campus, is of the same rite as Sakvuk.

“It’s important to show solidarity,” Iyengar said on his reasons for attending the talk.

Franciscan University was the first stop for Sakvuk on his two-month trip to the U.S. and Canada to spread the message of Ukraine’s “revolution of dignity.”

He also wished to observe Franciscan’s student life and household activities in hopes of actualizing similar practices at UCU.

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