(RNS) — As Archbishop Daniel, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, watched his home country endure an invasion at the hands of Russia this week, he found himself waffling between two emotions: shock and devastation.
It’s not that he was surprised by tension between the two countries, which is long-standing. The rifts between Russia and Ukraine even extend to the religious realm: In late 2018 and early 2019, Orthodox Christians in Ukraine declared independence, or autocephaly, from the Orthodox Patriarchate in Russia. The Orthodox Church in Constantinople promptly set about recognizing the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, while Russian Orthodox leaders refused. The result: two opposing Orthodox factions in the country.
But seeing such tensions escalate to the level of armed conflict — with deadly consequences for Ukraine and its people — tore at Archbishop Daniel’s heart.
“I came to the United States of America in 1995, right after the collapse of Soviet Union,” he said Thursday (Feb. 24) in an interview for Religion News Service with Lew Nescott Jr., an independent producer covering religion and politics. “I lived through the images of tanks going through Moscow and when Soviet Union fell.
“Now, 30 years later, I am living through the images of Russian tanks going through the streets, through the sovereign borders of Ukraine,” the archbishop said.
The interview is below, edited for length and clarity.
You went on a pastoral visit to Kyiv the first weekend in February. It must seem like it happened a year ago.
Absolutely. When I was in Kyiv, I stayed in a hotel very close to St. Michael’s Cathedral. I recognized the balcony where CNN was doing their live shot on television — at the hotel where I stayed. I called a friend of mine who lives in a monastery, a monastic. I said, “How’s it going? What’s happening?” He sent me images of news media all over St. Michael’s monastery trying to get as much coverage as they can.
As we were talking, he said, “Can you hear it — explosions in the background?” It was probably in a proximity of a few kilometers from there, and they were able to hear them.
Being in Kyiv at the beginning of February, people were on the edge. They thought of the possibility of provocation from Russians, but nobody expected a full invasion. Now, our Western allies and intelligence from the U.S. have been saying — and in many news networks — that it’s possible, the Russians would do that. But you know, we live in the 21st century; who wants to believe that in the middle of Europe, in Ukraine, somebody will take the actions that he has taken?