by Priest Dimitry SIDOR (Ukraine)

Orthodox Priest Accepts the Challenge of the Ukrainian Security Service

When it became known late on the night of 25 December that the Ukrainian Security Service had searched the Exaltation of the Cross Cathedral in Uzhgorod, a Strategic Culture Foundation expert called the Cathedral dean and Rusyn (Carpatho-Russian) leader Archpriest Dimitry Sidor to ask him a number of questions. The transcript of the conversation is presented below.

Father, after the international conference in Rostov-on-the-Don which signified a major development in the debates on the Rusyn problem and the interview of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Subcarpathian Rus, P. Hetsko, to the newspaper, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, everybody was waiting to see how the Ukrainian administration would respond. As we expected, the response was harsh – the Ukrainian Security Service launched a new round of repressions. Please tell us in greater detail what happened.

On 25 December, Christmas Day according to the Roman Catholic calendar, the Ukrainian Security Service searched the charity based at the Cathedral. It confiscated 3 computers owned by the church, my private laptop, and also the archives of the Subcarpathian Rusyn parliament and the Congress (the Second European Congress of the Carpatho-Russians – Strategic Culture Foundation). The search warrant was issued by Uzhgorod court judge A. Tsipak. Actually, two searches were carried out with one warrant!

My daughter sent a letter of protest against the raid perpetrated by the Ukrainian Security Service, but the chances are slim that there will be any reaction to it.

The Ukrainian Security Service is spreading absurd rumours in Uzhgorod to discredit not just me but also the entire Orthodox Church. For example, it is unnerving the public by claims that radioactive materials are installed in the crosses of Orthodox churches in the city (!).

We have been physically attacked by Ukrainian security agents. The Ukrainian Security Service colonel A. Kovalev and his aides broke into the charity and beat up the journalist and visitors who happened to be inside at that time. They smashed the camera of a journalist who was photographing their raid. Believe it or not, afterwards the blame for the whole incident was pinned on me...

Kiev charges Rusyns and you in particular with separatism. What can you say about the allegations? Generally, what are the objectives of the Rusyn movement?

Kiev's experts scrutinised – without my consent – the resolutions of the Second European Congress of Carpatho-Russians in search of separatist appeals. Their verdict was that there were no open calls for separatism in the documents, but that there were indirect ones. Charges against me were pressed as a result. They are based on the fact that we demand the recognition of Rusyns as a distinct nation, and on nothing else!

The head of the Ukrainian Security Service’s Transcarpathian division, Tivodar, met some of the members of the Rusyn parliament. They explained to him that the renaissance of Rusyn self-awareness is an ongoing process and that it cannot be stopped. Our minimal demands addressed to the Ukrainian administration are to recognise Rusyn nationhood and to introduce instruction in the Rusyn language in local schools. The Ukrainian administration ignores even the above minimum.

In other words, Rusyns are fully committed to autonomy while remaining ready to minimise their demands. How does the Ukrainian administration respond and how is the problem seen by the so-called international community?

In March 2009 Ukraine is to report to the UN which is asking it to clarify the situation with the country's ethnic minorities, including the Rusyns, (the 16 August 2006 Resolution of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination refers to Rusyns as a particular people distinct from Ukrainians and calls for the recognition of Rusyns by the Ukrainian administration and the establishment of a system of education in the Rusyn language – Strategic Culture Foundation). I think the Ukraine's only hope in the situation is that the US is going to help it. Notably, it was US President W. Wilson who gave Rusyns freedom in the past. The current US administration, however, regards President Yushchenko as an ally in a game against Russia and insulates him from criticism.

Currently, Rusyns are subjected to ethnocide with elements of downright genocide. The Ukrainian Security Service launches its punitive expeditions even on religious holidays. The orders are issued by the Ukrainian Security Service chief Nalivaychenko.

We attempted to sue the Ukrainian Security Service but we could never get the papers we filed accepted. For example, when the door of our centre was broken down, we got the response that there was no evidence of burglary... We sued the Ukrainian media for slander but the facts were not examined properly.

In their typical manner, the Ukrainian administration and media discern “the hand of Moscow” in the Rusyn revival...

Just recently a Ukrainian “political scientist” who commented on Rusyn Prime Minister Hetsko's interview to the newspaper Gazeta Po-Kievski invoked the myth that Moscow had fed Rusyns nothing less than 100 million rubles (about $5 million). Security chief Nalivaychenko's allegations are less impressive - just 1,900,000 roubles... I put it clearly – we get no money from Moscow, NOTHING at all, sadly enough. All of our charity and education projects are funded from our own means.

On 26 December our charity is to receive 30 orphans from Dnepropetrovsk. They will live in Uzhgorod. We plan to send 30 children from Subcarpathian Rus on holiday by the Sea of Azov next summer and to a mountain resort next winter. The Tisa-1 satellite channel will broadcast the Christmas service from the Uzhgorod Exaltation of the Cross Cathedral (11 a.m.-1 p.m. Moscow time – Strategic Culture Foundation) so that you can watch the Rusyn Orthodox service in Moscow.

We have opened 40 Rusyn classes which we fund independently. As I said, we get no assistance from Moscow whatsoever, though some Ukrainian media spread myths about it, obviously not without the involvement of the Ukrainian Security Service. One of their legends is that the cost of the Cathedral construction I am overseeing in Uzhgorod is $11 million. It is going to be a large and beautiful Cathedral nevertheless. The complex will also include a belfry, a small conference hall, a studio, and stores – altogether a small town.

Kiev responded to your demands with repressions against Rusyn leaders. What are the next steps of Rusyn organisations going to be?

We will not allow them to intimidate us. The provisional government of the Republic of Subcarpathian Rus was formed on 2 December 2008. Prime Minister Hetsko says that repressions against Rusyn leaders only drive underground and radicalise the movement. I state definitely that we are not separatists. It would be a serious mistake of the Ukrainian administration to take reckless steps that would force us to become separatists!

In fact, currently Rusyns are confronted with a third Maramosh trial. The first and second ones took place in Austria-Hungary in 1903 and 1914. In the latter case, 94 Orthodox Rusyn leaders, including St Alexis the Confessor of Carpatho-Russia, faced trial. The investigation against me conducted by the Ukrainian Security Service is a prosecution of the entire Rusyn people – this is what the third Maramosh trial is about. The security officers and judges involved are open about seeking to have me indicted at any cost and jailed at least for a short term. It is likely that this task has been set by President Yushchenko.

We will appeal to European courts as there are no independent courts in Ukraine. The Ukrainian administration and its servile courts have put an entire nation on trial in severe breach of Ukrainian and international laws.

Please note that Kiev had a chance to reach a compromise after Mukachevo. For instance it could say what it would and what it would not agree to. However, the Ukrainian administration chose the policy of total bans and discrediting the resolutions of our Congress.

We, the Rusyns, accept the challenge from the KGB/Ukrainian Security Service. I do wish to say that in the Soviet era the KGB used to be more professional and cultured. The Ukrainian Security Service acts in a rougher and more unsophisticated manner.

Do you feel that you are supported by civil society in Ukraine? The Ukrainian administration keeps talking about its commitment to democratic values and its intention to get the country integrated into a united Europe…

There are no human rights groups in Ukraine. I am a member of a journals’ organisation, but journalists have not expressed any support for Rusyns. Nor have human rights activists. Whenever I try to contact the media they refuse to co-operate. When a country starts to build a US-type democracy, you hear a lot about it, but it is non-existent. There is absolutely no democracy in the Ukraine under Yushchenko.

What are the consequences that you expect after the Mukachevo Congress?

The Mukachevo Congress was a notable event. We declared that the Rusyn issue remains unresolved, the repressions against the nation are intensifying, and that emergency rule in the Ukraine is looming. Some of the statements made by Yushchenko are quite revealing – he says that the people have asked him for emergency rule but he has refused to introduce it. Probably he is going to give in to the demands of the “people” eventually.

We keep on the struggle and we are not going to surrender. The majority of the population in our region favours the recognition of Rusyn nationhood and a measure of autonomy for us. Over the 17 years of the history of the independent Ukraine I have espoused the rights of the Rusyn nation and canonical Orthodox Christianity. In the recent years the agenda has been defined by the referendum on the recognition of Rusyn nationhood.

I, an Orthodox priest, accept the challenge from the Ukrainian Security Service. I have no personal interests involved and do not plan to hold any official positions in Subcarpathian Rus on its recognition. My mission is the priesthood. Priests have always been the nation's leaders in the history of the Rusyns.

Rusyns enjoyed autonomy in Hungary after World War I and in Czechoslovakia between the two World Wars. Rusyn autonomy was reflected in the constitution of the latter. In 1939 we even had elements of a confederation when Avgustyn Voloshyn was President of ‘Carpatho-Ukraine’. There was a Voloshyn memorial in Ukraine. We have a unique – European! - history, but today's Europe does not support us. It pursues a two-faced policy and pretends not to notice that the rights of national minorities are violated in its very heartland, since the Ukraine under Yushchenko is Europe's anti-Russian ally.

Rusyns harbour great respect and affinity for Russia. A century ago Hungary put Rusyns on trial in Seget, regarding the Orthodox people as Russian agents. As you see, things have not changed over the past hundred years.

It is no secret that the Ukrainian administration maintains an informational blockade of the Rusyn issue and movement. Have there been any changes - is the information about the violation of minority rights in this part of Europe reaching the international community?

These days information plays the main role. At the moment we are preparing an international conference in a European country which we hope to organise in early 2009. We also plan to hold rallies in front of Ukrainian Embassies in European countries. The problem is that we have no money. Nevertheless the information blockade has been broken. The first step was made by the Russian RTR TV channel, then there was the 19 December International Conference which convened in Rostov-on-the-Don on St Nicholas Day and brought together participants from five European countries.

What can you say about the religious situation in Ukraine and Subcarpathian Rus?

Until World War II Orthodox Rusyns were under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Currently we are under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate, and no tricks played by Yushchenko and the Ukrainian Security Service will ever separate us from the Russian Orthodox Church.

I have unmasked a Jesuit group - a group of agents of the Vatican – in the Ukrainian Security Service. There is a special group within this agency whose aim is to weaken the positions of the Orthodox Church in the Ukraine. The Vatican and the CIA are working together in the Ukraine against Russia and the Orthodox Church. Rusyns are also targeted for resisting the expansion of the Uniats. It is probably fair to say that Orthodox Rusyns are more religious than any other nation. For example, the Orthodox blessing of waters is typically attended by up to 10,000 Rusyns.

As a concluding remark I would like to say that conflicts between totalitarian regimes and nations invariably lead to the triumph of nationhood!

Thank you for your interview. Hold firm!

God bless you!

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