The Past and Future Friendship of the Ukrainian and Russian Peoples

Flags of Russia and Ukraine
Flags of Russia and Ukraine (photo:
By William Yoder, Ph.D.March 6th, 2024

L a d u s h k i n -- An interconfessional declaration attacking the concept of a Russian World (see text below) was published in Kiev on 10 January 2024. It was distributed further by the “European Evangelical Alliance”.

The piece opens with the highly subjective term of “aggression”. Yet the Russian side cites NATO enlargement and a hoped-for break-up of Russia - or Balkanization - as proof of aggressive Western intent. The Maidan putsch of February 2014 destroyed the tricky balance between pro-Russian and pro-Western forces which had kept Ukraine in one piece since its founding in December 1991. The Minsk II co-signers Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Petro Poroshenko have all conceded that these agreements from February 2015 had been used as a ploy to gain valuable time for rearming the country. The UK’s Boris Johnson was highly-responsible for scuttling the promising Istanbul agreements of March 2022. The West’s refusal to enter negotiations – both before and after February 2022 – can certainly also be interpreted as aggression. It was assumed that Russia must live without the security arrangements the USA demands for itself (Monroe Doctrine, fo ex.).

The term “Russian World” asserts commonality between the Eastern Slavic, Orthodox peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. This view that peoples demonstrate similarities, that nations can be grouped, is not inherently aggressive. Yet it can be used in an aggressive fashion by nationalist circles. Despite highly-different dialects, Saxons, Bavarians, Swabians and Friesens are nevertheless all classified as Germans. Why not view the Russian World in the same light?

I tend to support the view that Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians form a single nation, often called “Rus”. Nearly all citizens of these three countries share a mutual first or second mother tongue. One could in the same sense argue that US-Americans and English-speaking Canadians form a common Anglo-Saxon nation.

More than a few evangelicals in Ukraine and Belarus are up in the front lines when it comes to pushing ethnic separatism, emphasizing that their nation is not a part of the Russian one. Swallowing or assimilating another people can be interpreted as an unfriendly act. Russia could be accused of that, yet millions of Russia’s inhabitants still claim to be Ukrainians. Is Russia attempting to swallow Ukraine, or is Rus simply attempting to swallow Rus? When is a war a civil war, and when is it not? You choose. Certainly, in terms of international law, the Russian invasion of 2022 was illegal.

Generally, Russians do not preach hatred of the Ukrainian nation. Russians continue to stress their friendship and fraternal ties with the peoples of Ukraine. As recently noted by the USA’s Tucker Carlson, Moscow’s impressive “Kievskaya” subway station, completed in 1954, continues to celebrate the brother- and sisterhood of the Russian and Ukrainian peoples. I am not aware of similar government positions in today’s Ukraine.

Russian evangelicals are hesitant to criticize a pro-Ukrainian dissident such as the erstwhile Baptist leader Yuri Sipko, who fled from Moscow to Germany in August 2023. Russian evangelical leaders rarely publicly criticize their spiritually- and blood-related brothers and sisters in Ukraine. They understand the need for reconciliation following the current conflict and do not intend to recklessly undermine the prospects of that future task.

I am very reluctant to accuse an adversary of mental instability. Accusations of insanity (“craziness”) have become highly inflationary and serve as an effective negotiations killer. Here’s a modest example from John Varoli, a one-time journalist for the “New York Times”. Following a visit to Kiev in April 2019, he concluded that he had for the first time “encountered suicidal nationalism”. (“Substack”, 17 July 2023.) One Ukrainian quote he cited: “We will fight the Russians even if it means that all of Ukraine will burn”. His conclusion: “Something dark and evil resides in the soul of Ukraine’s intellectual and political elite. Nationalists in Lvov and Kiev . . . are ready to accept their country’s destruction and see their people slaughtered just to insist on their ‘right’ to join NATO.”

Varoli writes in closing: “Most independent geopolitical experts know that this war between Russia and Ukraine was easily avoidable. . . The solution (political neutrality, etc.) really is simple. Except it isn’t, because self-destructive Ukrainian nationalism and American imperial ambitions have found common cause.” One of course cannot accept this conclusion if one sees no American “imperial ambitions”. Around 15 years ago, my wife and I first heard Ukrainian evangelicals insisting that they would be fighting “to the very end”.

On 13 June 2023, I was sent a recorded excerpt from the All-Ukrainian prayer gathering in Kiev apparently three days previous. In his prayer at that event, Pentecostal bishop Andrey Tishenko beseeched God (under applause) to supply Ukrainian forces with F-16 jets and long-range missiles. At a Warsaw church gathering on 7 October 2023, another Ukrainian Pentecostal bishop, Mykhailo Panochko, ascertained that Vladimir Putin was Satan and that his adherents were demons worthy of death.

Undoubtedly, the treatment of evangelicals in Russian-held Donbass has been problematic. It is closely related to the highly-strident positions taken by evangelical leaders in Kiev, expecting their colleagues in Donbass to pay as little heed as possible to the new, pro-Russian authorities. (That position is not supported by Romans 13.). Actions are followed by reactions, which is hardly surprising.

The future

In closing, this declaration from 10 January calls for a Ukrainian military victory, not for negotiations. With very few exceptions, Russian evangelicals on the other hand do not pray for military victory, they pray for the victory of peace.

The West is not winning the war on the Ukrainian battlefield – nor in international trade. The US has nevertheless won major political victories by destroying the ties between Germany and Russia, uniting Western Europe behind it and bringing Finland and Sweden into the NATO fold. Why not celebrate this significant victory for the sake of the voters back home in the USA and Western Europe, and then pull back?

We must not despair, even when cowering in the shadow of a nuclear cloud. I have had up-lifting conversations with Ukrainian refugees in Germany and Poland and very much want to believe that post-war reconciliation will be possible. We will need to co-exist when the present crises is over. All hands will be needed.

Moscow’s Pentecostal bishop Sergey Ryakhovsky, the primary or sole Russian Protestant leader officially sanctioned by Ukraine, wrote in August 2022: “I believe . . . the realization will return that Russians and Ukrainians form a common whole, and that we need each other. The many wounds, which this war has caused, will be healed and these fraternal peoples will again co-exist in peace and harmony.” Anonymous criticism in this Ukrainian declaration is directed at the “Associated Russian Union of Christians of Evangelical-Pentecostal Faith” (ROSKhVE) headed by Ryakhovsky.

Reconciliation is the primary issue, not accusations citing the other side’s guilt. Let’s get the process up-and-running by citing Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”.

Originally from Webpage "The FEA"

CCD edited and reprinted with permission

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