The View From Here: What’s going on in Ukraine?

Volodymyr Kish.

As usual, I am confused about what is going on in Ukraine. I pride myself on the fact that I take the time to do the research and maintain contacts with people who have the expertise and judgment to formulate knowledgeable opinions on the state of Ukrainian affairs. I try to not look upon the situation there through any kind of emotional or biased lens, but to be as objective and fact-based as possible. I force myself to analyze the events, not as a “patriot”, but as a journalist. I must tell you that all this is an extremely difficult task, since I am undoubtedly a proud Ukrainian who carries a lot of its difficult history in my heart and soul. Being objective takes real effort.

The events of the past month in the land of my ancestors have evoked a strange mixture of dissonance and puzzlement. Ukraine continues to be an enigma, not only to Putin, but to the diaspora as well, myself included.

Take the situation with the recently formed united, canonical Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU). A dream for centuries, it finally became a reality several months ago when the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople finally granted an official Tomos that united the various competing Orthodox churches in Ukraine under one roof. The Kyiv Patriarchate, the Autocephalous Orthodox and many of the parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate joined together under a new primate, Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kyiv and All Ukraine. The plan was that Filaret, the aging, former head of the now dissolved Kyivan Patriarchate and a primary architect of the creation of the new church, was to retire into an ‘honorary” role, with the dynamic, young Epiphanius boldly leading the OCU on the road to a bright, new future.

Well, it seems that over the past few weeks, that road has developed a few major potholes. Patriarch Filaret has either had second thoughts or has fallen victim to a bit of mortal vanity. Through some not so subtle statements and bewildering actions, he has sought to imply that the Kiev Patriarchate was not dissolved and that he, and not Metropolitan Epiphanius is the real primate of the new church, with Epiphanius serving in a supporting junior role responsible only for foreign church relations.

This is most curious. Filaret was a stalwart moral and religious leader in Ukraine over the past several decades, resolutely combating the Moscow Patriarchate’s imperialistic attempts at dominating religious affairs in the country. Together with President Poroshenko, he played a key role in the creation of the new unified church. Now that it is a fait accompli, why is he suddenly sowing seeds of discord and disunity? Why is he putting his own commendable historical legacy at risk? At the age of 90, having accomplished as much as he did, he should be enjoying his “emeritus” status and writing his memoirs, rather than undermining what he worked so hard to accomplish in the first place.

The other area of significant confusion for me, have been the actions of Volodymyr Zelenskyy the newly elected President of Ukraine. I have tried to keep an open mind on Zelenskyy, especially in the face of the considerable polarization that his election has caused, not only in Ukraine but in the diaspora. Is he truly the anti-corruption, reform champion that he claims to be, or just a front-man tool for some of the oligarchic elite, or even worse, the Trojan horse for another Putin inspired conspiracy to destroy Ukraine and hand control of it back to the Russians. It is hard to find a Ukrainian that is not firmly convinced that he falls into one of these simplistic categories. Sadly his actions in the first few weeks of his Presidency, have done little to clarify who is the real Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Though he staunchly insists he is his own man and not an oligarchic plant, many of his early appointments have been prominent functionaries from within oligarch Igor Kolomoisky’s empire. Further, he has allowed Kolomoisky to return to Ukraine from self-imposed exile and has not publicly distanced himself from the “advice” to him that Kolomoisky has been freely spouting in the mass media. Although he has appointed some NGO reformist activists, he has also appointed people that once served in disgraced President Yanukovich’s regime. Although he insists that Russia must return Crimea and leave the occupied areas of the Donbas, he proclaims his readiness to “negotiate” with President Putin and even hold a referendum on the negotiations and future relations with Russia. Although he has made significant efforts to speak Ukrainian, and defends Ukrainian as a state language, his close advisors have been floating trial balloons about amending and diluting the recently legislated language law. His public statements on his government’s priorities and programs have been progressive and commendable, but there have been few details about how he hopes to implement them.

Does all this reflect the fact that he may be an idealist who lacks practical political experience and expertise, or is this a sign that there may be a darker side to his persona with an ulterior agenda. Right now, I must admit, I really don’t know. However, I am pretty sure that before this year is out, we will know definitively one way or another.