Final remarks by Ambassador Tetiana Izhevska at a Discussion with Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk on Religious Freedom

June 13, 2018

Dear Ambassador Gingrich,
Your Excellences,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, let me express my gratitude to my good friend Ambassador Callista Gingrich for hosting this meeting.

That is not for the first time when we meet together in the United States Embassy to the Holy See to discuss vital religious issues. It became a good tradition!

I would also like to express my gratitude to His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) for his speech. We are grateful for the time you took to share your thoughts with us.

I am sure that the conclusions of this meeting will form a part of the ideas with which we will address the issue of religious freedom.

I strongly reject the opinion of those who share a view that religion is primarily a private matter. Religion played a vital part in the world history. Today, in the modern globalized world, it becomes even more important as an instrument to ensure global stability. Apart from states’, a significant responsibility lays on religious leaders!
It concerns not only Cristian religious Leaders but also Leaders of all confessions and religions.

Ukraine is a multinational state, with an established tradition of peaceful multi-ethnic and multi-faith coexistence where different national minorities lived in peace and harmony side by side over decades and centuries.

According to the recent data, representatives of more than 100 national minorities and ethnic groups living in Ukraine and professing different religious beliefs. We are Orthodox, Byzantine Rite, Catholics of Latin Rite, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, et cetera. Hence, the Ukrainian religious landscape might be properly described as diverse and unique in its tolerance and respect for religious feelings. Ukraine is one of the most multiconfessional countries in Europe.

Maintenance of the atmosphere of religious freedom and tolerance –among the top priority of Ukraine !

Please let me borrow the words of President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko: “Two institutions enjoy the highest trust of Ukrainians today – army and church”……“The army defends the Ukrainian land. The language protects the Ukrainian heart. The church protects the Ukrainian soul”.

Indeed, as it was mentioned by His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk), the church has a very high degree of trust in Ukraine: 72 % of Ukrainians identify themselves as believers.

On the other hand, today we see how traditional values already being eroded in some countries and how religion is used to justify violence.

It became particularly evident after the illegal occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol by the Russian Federation and military invasion in Donbas.

Today, numerous significant challenges faced by Ukraine and its people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds continue to stem from the hybrid aggression of the Russian Federation.

Instead of religious freedom, inherent in the other part of Ukraine, in the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine religion is used as a ground for persecution, kidnapping, tortures, and murders.

Along with increasing human sufferings in the occupied Donbas, particular challenges, grave human rights violations and discrimination are faced by the Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in the illegally occupied Crimea.

Along with killings and enforced disappearances, intimidation and fierce attacks on Ukrainian identity and culture, religious freedom also remains heavily constricted since the illegal Russian occupation.

As acknowledged by international human rights observations, in the illegally occupied Crimea, Russia applies the worst practices of the Soviet repressive machine. Anyone, who dares to reject the so-called “reunification with Russia”, becomes a victim of arbitrary detention, prosecution, torturing, extrajudicial executions or punitive psychiatric treatment.

The phenomenon of political prisoners has become the sad reality in the Russia-occupied Crimea. My courageous compatriots fight now not only for freedom and justice, but for their lives as well.

The victims of political repression in Crimea are: Oleh Sentsov who was groundlessly sent to the Russian prison for 20 years, Volodymyr Balukh who was sent to jail only for Ukrainian flag above his home, Uzeiir Abdullaiev, who was cynically deprived by Kremlin jailers of urgent medical assistance, as well as dozens of other Ukrainians who became political prisoners.

We highly appreciate the efforts of the United States to release Ukrainian political prisoners.

Lessons of the last four years should be learned not only by us in Ukraine, but also in the democratic community around the globe. At the same time, we should remember the lessons of Russia’s illegal occupation of Georgian soil (regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia), as well as the lessons of the World War II…There is no room for compromises.

If paraphrasing Winston Churchill’s words, I would say: “when between comfort and democratic values we chose comfort than we will lose both in the end”.

Ukraine is grateful to its international partners for their explicit stance in favour of protection and restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.

In this regard words of my sincere gratitude I address to Ambassador Gingrich and to the United States of America for the strong support of my country in the fight against the Russian aggression.

Please allow me to urge you not to regard the events in Ukraine as a distant problem and not to allow the war in Ukraine to become a forgotten war.

In conclusion, I would like to cite a famous line by John Donne, also used by Ernest Hemingway in his novel “For Whom the Bell Tolls“:

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

I hope that during the next meeting in the United States Embassy to the Holy See I will be able to quote the title of the other novel by Hemingway “A FAREWELL TO ARMS”.

Thank you for your attention.