WARSAW, Poland — Although the Ukrainian government has not closed churches during the pandemic, Ukraine was “confronting other pandemics,” said its major archbishop.
The pandemic has prevented humanitarian aid from reaching parts of Ukraine and impeding Ukraine’s hopes of joining the European Union as a free and stable country, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych told Poland’s Catholic Information Agency, KAI. In a Jan. 26 interview with the agency, he also spoke of a rise in family violence and the spread of commercial surrogacy, which treated people “as goods to be ordered, produced and sold.”
Last May, Ukraine’s Catholic bishops urged a halt to trading in babies, after a Kyiv-based surrogacy agency, BioTexCom, posted a social media video showing infants stranded in a hotel when paying foreign parents were prevented from collecting them because of COVID-19 restrictions. However, ads for paid surrogacy services, which remain legal in Ukraine, are still widespread on the internet.
“It turned out Ukraine had become a world center for trafficking children and women trading on their maternity — we were unaware of the scale of this procedure, which our legal system had failed to regulate,” Shevchuk said.
“Surrogacy in Ukraine has become a world problem, and our bishops were among the first to speak with a single voice about what St. John Paul II called a structural sin. But the pandemic has also shown up a general pathology of corruption here, which even the exposure of scandals has done little to change.”
Church leaders have repeatedly urged action to strengthen the rule of law in Ukraine, which is widely considered Europe’s most corrupt country after neighboring Russia.
In a mid-2020 report, the International Monetary Fund warned reforms “increasingly faced resistance from vested interests,” despite a pledge by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at his 2019 election to tackle corruption.
Shevchuk told KAI that Zelenskiy had pledged to end Ukraine’s war with Russia-backed separatists, which has left at least 13,200 dead since April 2014.
However, he added, with the pandemic, the Russian-occupied eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions had been blocked.
“We are dealing with a frozen conflict — there’s no escalation and only rare exchanges of fire, but our soldiers are still dying,” the archbishop told the KAI agency.
“We need to educate on a mass scale and do everything to further our European aspirations,” he said. “But while this project should be consolidating our society, the pandemic has largely frozen out our activism.”
The archbishop said the pandemic had improved ties among churches and faiths in Ukraine, where a new independent Orthodox church is seeking foreign recognition two years after breaking with the Russian Orthodox Church’s Moscow Patriarchate.
He added that the Ukrainian Catholic Church had made monasteries and places of worship, including his own residence, available to medical personnel during the pandemic and would work to rebuild a sense of belonging across society once the crisis passed.
“We don’t yet know the consequences of what we’re experiencing — not just in medical terms, but in social, political, economic and church terms too. We stand on the threshold of a new era in world history,” Shevchuk said.
“The extreme individualism of our culture and virtualization of life have created illusions that we’re self-sufficient, that everything depends on the individual. But being Christian means belonging to a community, sharing one identity with believers in Jesus Christ.”