The View From Here: Ukraine Update

Volodymyr Kish.

There are lots of things happening in Ukraine right now as it enters an interesting transitional phase in its continuing struggles to strengthen its independence and reform its sometimes dubious political and governmental systems. History has not often been kind to Ukrainians, and progress has seldom come without significant turmoil and sacrifice. Nonetheless, Ukrainians as a whole are a stubborn lot and continue to demand what is rightfully due to them as a people and a nation.

The conflict in the east continues to take lives and destroy what little infrastructure is left in the Donbas. What has become obvious though, is that no injection of Russian soldiers, mercenaries and arms will be sufficient to sever this part of Ukraine and make it Russian territory. The Ukrainian military has risen to the challenge and stopped the Russian invasion in its tracks. Putin has painted himself into a corner and has no idea of how to extricate himself from this mess without losing face. In the meantime, the sanctions imposed upon Russia for this bit of imperialistic adventurism, combined with its immoral foray into Syria, are inexorably pushing the Russian economy ever closer to bankruptcy.

On another front, the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine (MP), has also painted itself into a corner and is similarly facing a lose – lose situation. The spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox, the Patriarch of Constantinople, has decided to grant autocephaly to the Orthodox Church in Ukraine, freeing it from Moscow’s domination. It has been obvious for quite a long time that the MP is just another tool used by the Russian government to advance their imperial ambitions, and now its hold on the Orthodox faithful in Ukraine has been broken.

In a foolish move, the Moscow church has severed its ties with Constantinople, in effect losing it canonical standing and becoming “schismatic”. It is supremely ironic that in the space of a few months, the Kyivan Patriarchate (KP), which had until recently been considered schismatic and non-canonical is now canonical, whereas the formerly canonical MP is now itself wearing non-canonical and schismatic shoes.

Ukraine’s President Poroshenko is leading the charge in trying to persuade the senior clergy of the MP to switch to the new canonical KP, and to some extent that is working. A significant number of bishops and parishes have already indicated they will do so, and undoubtedly that trend will accelerate as time goes by and the reality of the situation sinks in with the majority of the Orthodox faithful. Putin is not taking this lying down of course, as is evidenced by the fact that “unknown agents” tried to firebomb the historic St. Andrew’s church in Kyiv last week, not long after the Ukrainian government transferred ownership of this venerable building to the Kyivan Patriarchate. The master of intrigue and manipulation will be doing everything he can to incite violence and chaos so as to besmirch Ukrainian authorities and justify further Russian intervention. We can expect other such provocations by Putin’s agents in Ukraine in the future.

As commendable as President Poroshenko’s efforts have been in helping achieve autocephaly, we should not lose sight of the fact that he is using this issue to bolster his chances in retaining the Presidency in next year’s elections. He is politically vulnerable as a result of his lukewarm performance in implementing most of the reforms he promised when he was elected almost four years ago. Corruption continues largely unabated, judicial reform has been dismally watered down, journalistic freedom is being increasingly eroded, and the Ukrainian economy is sputtering as increasing numbers of young Ukrainians are leaving the country to find work in neighbouring European states. Poroshenko’s personal popularity is way down, and it is highly unlikely that he will succeed in getting re-elected.

Although Poroshenko’s tenure as president has been largely disappointing, what is worrisome is that there are currently very few real candidates that would give Ukrainians hope of something better in the foreseeable future. There is no shortage of declared contenders for next year’s presidential election, but they are mostly the same mixed bag of shady oligarchs, populists, power brokers, fringe fanatics, Russian fellow travelers, saboteurs and kooks that have made Ukrainian elections such a farce in the past. There is a solid small group of promising young reformist politicians, but they face a real uphill battle in raising the finances and creating the necessary political machine to mount successful electoral campaigns.

And so Ukraine continues in its struggles towards a better and more stable future. We can however, take some comfort in the fact that though things are still far from ideal, Ukraine is today in a better place than fifty years ago, or twenty five years ago, or even five years ago. At least Ukraine’s future is now largely in its own hands.