My dear friends

Ukraine: a Christian reflection

By a cruel irony, in Passiontide when Christians concentrate on the ‘passion’ or sufferings out of love for humanity of Jesus Christ, our newspapers and televisions are full of images of suffering of a very different sort: the sufferings of the innocent people of Ukraine following the Russian so-called ‘special military operation’. In particular, as the Russian troops have withdrawn from the area around Kiev, the Ukrainians have discovered evidence of the torture and murder of civilians by Russian soldiers in cities such as Bucha. The shelling of Mariupol and many other towns and cities continues.

It is possible that the Russian army may be engaging in what is called ‘deterrent terror’, to cow the Ukrainian civilian population and to discourage resistance fighters. In all probability, the Russian troops – many of whom are conscripts – have been badly led and military discipline in the field has to some extent broken down. There has been wanton cruelty. Bad things unfortunately happen in all wars, but I have no hesitation in describing the behaviour of some of the Russian troops in Ukraine as wicked.

Each time I have celebrated the Holy Eucharist since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24th February 2022, I have done so with ‘special intention’ for the people of Ukraine, seeking to weave them and their awful sufferings into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I have asked the Holy Spirit to strengthen and support the people of Ukraine, and to help them attain peace with justice.

It is very humbling to be able to report that our coffee morning at Catsfield raised almost £550 for the work of the Disasters Emergency Committee in Ukraine, and that the children of Crowhurst Church of England Primary School held a special ‘Bob-a-Job’ week and raised almost £1,000 for the work of the Red Cross in Ukraine. I am sure that other opportunities for us to help the people of Ukraine will come along in the next few months.

At the same time, I am also anxious that we should look at the wider picture and seek to avoid any un-Christian hatred of the ordinary Russian people. If anything, they are deserving of our pity. During the Second World War, Archbishop Cosmo Lang of Canterbury spoke of those who ‘misruled’ over Germany. I think ‘misrule’ is a good word. It might also be applied to Russia. Since the collapse of the USSR thirty years ago, after an initially bright and hopeful new beginning, things have become increasingly dark for many ordinary people in Russia. A small group of Russians have begun to ‘misrule’ over their fellow-countrymen, often lining their own pockets in the process. The Russian government now controls nearly all of the news outlets in Russia and feeds its people a diet of twisted partial-truths and propaganda, which many people believe to be the gospel truth. Some tens of thousands of Russians, however – and we should not overlook this point – have opposed the war from the outset and have been arrested when they have protested.

Eventually, the war in Ukraine will come to an end and negotiations will follow. I sincerely hope the resulting peace settlement will not be disadvantageous to Ukraine. The people of Ukraine deserve a good and lasting peace settlement and our help with post-war reconstruction.

Eventually, too, the Russian people will learn the truth about the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine. The present Russian régime may succeed in keeping the details from them for a few years, but all leaders grow old, lose their grip on power and finally die. In the end, the Russian people will discover that they were lied to and manipulated by the leaders in whom they had placed their trust. There never was a threat to Russia from Ukraine or NATO. Ukraine was not full of Nazis. They will learn of the pointless shelling of civilian targets in Ukraine and of the atrocities carried out by their troops.

I am sure that, to begin with, many Russians will not want to believe this new information about the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine, but in the end the evidence will be so overwhelming that it will be impossible for level-headed people to deny it. When the penny drops, there is every possibility that the Russian people will undergo a sort-of collective nervous breakdown. Something similar happened after the collapse of the USSR in 1991 as they looked back on their experiences under the totalitarian régime that followed the 1917 Bolshevik revolution.

When the Russian people finally accept what those who ‘misrule’ over them have done in Ukraine, they will need us to offer them the hand of friendship. This will not be easy for them or for us. But, taking the broad view, no-one wants a weak, unhappy and unstable Russia. Recall how Hitler came to power in Germany as a result of the weakness and instability of the Weimar Republic after the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression of the early 1930s. Instead, we all want to see a happy, free and contented Russia, with which we can live in brotherly love and friendship.

We might also remind ourselves at this juncture that the grief of a Russian mother over the death of her soldier son in the war in Ukraine is much the same as the grief of a Ukrainian mother over the death of her soldier son – with the obvious and cruel caveat that the Ukrainian mother will know that her son laid down his life in the cause of freedom and to protect his fellow countrymen from foreign aggression, whereas the Russian mother will at some level understand that her son was killed in an unnecessary war and that even if he himself behaved impeccably, he was part of a Russian army that committed atrocities against Ukranian civilians. That realisation will doubtless make her grief harder to bear.

Forgiveness is a key element of our Christian faith. Jesus himself taught us to pray “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”; and in his death agony on the cross on Good Friday he himself prayed “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The act forgiveness is one of the hardest of things to do in the face of injustice and wicked cruelty. At some point, however, Christians in Ukraine and Russia will have to think about forgiveness, for it is a central part of our Christian pilgrimage, as well as a part of the healing process. Finding forgiveness will be difficult. It will take time, patience, and God’s grace; but eventually forgiveness must offered and received on all sides.

In the coming days and months we must each ask God in our prayers to help us to preserve Christian attitudes and compassionate hearts. We must pray for wisdom for political leaders, and for the coming of peace with justice to Ukraine. We must continue to do what practically we can to support the suffering people of Ukraine, especially all refugees and the bereaved and injured. And when the time comes, we must see what we may be able to do to support and further post-war reconstruction and healing.

With my love, prayers and blessing,

Father Robert.