Listen to this BosNewsLife News report via Vatican Radio 

Listen to this interview by Charles Collins: RealAudioMP3 

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife with additional reporting by Charles Collins and Christopher Wells, Vatican Radio

Ukrainian priests pray amid clashes in Kyiv.

KYIV, UKRAINE (BosNewsLife)– The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, whose denomination has been threatened with closure by authorities, appealed for peace Wednesday, February 19, after at least 25 people died and over 240 others were injured in the worst violence in Ukraine’s post-independence history.

Clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters began Tuesday, February 18, when angry crowds attempted to march to the Parliament building.

Riot police, backed by special forces, continued to attack the main anti-government protest camp with several demonstrators reportedly being shot dead.

Among those killed were police and at least one journalist.

Despite the clashes, thousands gathered on Kyiv’s Independence Square early Wednesday, February 19, hurling firebombs at officers backed by water cannons and military vehicles, while the sound of gunfire reverberated throughout the area.


The overnight fighting underscored growing frustration among protesters. They braved freezing temperatures since November to demand the resignation of the perceived autocratic President Yanukovich. Protesters are furious that he refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union, opting instead for closer ties with neighboring Russia.

While thick black smoke rose from the barricades encircling the embattled protest area, the Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) Sviatoslav Shevchuk, appealed for an end to violence.

“With great regret I should say that appeals of churches to prevent the bloodshed and a peaceful settlement of the conflict has not been heard,” he said in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife on Wednesday, February 19.

“In the name of God I condemn violence and disregard of human rights and the will of the people,” he added. “I would like to emphasize that the one who has the power, bears full responsibility for what is happening in the country.”

Authorities have threatened to outlaw his church, as priests have been praying with protesters. The Ministry of Culture claimed priests had been “breaking the law” by holding religious services outside a place of worship.


Bishop Shevchuk has defended the open air prayer and improvised church services near often burning barricades, comparing government threats against believers to the Soviet era.

He told the government last month that “the times have long passed when church buildings were ruined and priests serving their faithful were arrested or even killed.”

Bishop Shevchuk said he regrets the threats come at a time when his denomination remembers the 25th anniversary since it was legalized in the Soviet Union.

On Wednesday, February 19, he also made clear his denomination would continue to speak out against violence. “I appeal to everyone to immediately stop the bloodshed. I call all the children of the Church to fasting, prayer and solidarity with victims. At this moment, when Ukraine is in danger of fratricide, let all the bells in the UGCC churches ring,” he said.

President Yanukovich blamed the opposition for the violence between security forces and protesters in the capital Kyiv.


In a statement, he said opposition leaders “disregarded the principle of democracy according to which one obtains power not on the streets or Maidan [movements], but through elections”.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka said in separate televised remarks that protesters could face punishment.

“Organisers of mass protests will be held accountable. We will demand the heaviest punishment both for those who revved people up to take part in today’s action and for those who organised and controlled them,” he warned.

With fighting continuing, the European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton urged Ukraine’s leadership to address the root causes of the crisis.

“I call upon president Yanukovych, the government together with the leaders of the opposition to find an immediate way out of this deepening crisis, and to continue the work to find a way to solve the political crisis through dialogue,” she said.


“As I have said in each of the visits I have made, the European Union stands ready to help in any way that we can,” the top diplomat added. German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier warned of possible sanctions if the former Soviet nation is further sliding back into violence

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney urged Yanukovych to restart a dialogue with opposition leaders. “We are appalled by the violence that has already taken place in downtown Kyiv and reports of armed riot police massing on the edge of ‘Maidan’ [Independence Square]”, he said.

“We continue to condemn street violence and excessive use of force by either side. Force will not resolve the crisis,” Carney told reporters.

For now fighting continues. “There will be a guerrilla war in the provinces, towns and the rural areas. We will burn everything,” warned an angry demonstrator. “We want justice.”

It comes amid a geopolitical battle for the future of Ukraine. Russia wants to provide a 15 billion dollar bailout in exchange for political influence, critics claim, while the EU also seeks a closer relationship with Ukraine.

(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).

Please help BosNewsLife to be the voice of the voiceless. Click here for a subscription.

Follow BosNewsLife via Twitter


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here