Elections Present Concerns for Ukraine's Christian Communities

For more than two weeks, thousands of Christians took to the streets of Ukraine, concerned about the future of religious freedom in their country after the Ukrainian government's decision to name a Moscow-backed candidate winner of presidential elections on Nov. 21. According to reports, members of almost all of the religious communities took part in the protests despite the downpour of rain and sub-zero temperatures.

"The ecclesiastical authorities are not supposed to take a stand in this crisis," said the Reverend Olexander Hoursky, the pastor of St. Alexander's Church, one of the largest Roman Catholic churches in the multi-denominational city of Kiev.

However, despite the Roman Catholic Church's official stance regarding the demonstrations, many of the several hundred worshippers packed into the church were wearing orange, the symbol of the opposition.

"The Church supports good against evil, the protection of human rights and the end of any injustices, corruption, the state abuse of power,” Hoursky told the International Herald Tribune. “Personally, I hope Yushchenko becomes president. He will give us back our property."

Even though Ukraine became independent from the former Soviet Union nearly 15 years ago, Hoursky told the Tribune that authorities have not returned property originally owned by the Roman Catholic Church.

"We have to lease this church from the state," he explained. "The authorities promised they would return our property. They have not. We expect Yushchenko to do so. He said he would."

While most are supporting West-leaning opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, there are those who support Moscow-backed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, including more than half of the followers of the Orthodox Church, which are loyal to Moscow.

Paul Marty, President of HOPE International explained to the Mission Network News agency the reason why religious bodies have taken stances on the election.

“A large part of what's at stake here is the future of Christianity in this part of the world," said Marty, who lives in Ukraine. "If the election goes toward the pro-Russian candidate, then a lot of the policies of the country are going to follow. And, he's publicly stated that the only church he would recognize would be the Russian Orthodox Church and would not tolerate others."

After the past two weeks of mass demonstrations protesting Yanukovich’s victory over Yushchenko—which observers say was rigged by the government—Ukraine's Supreme Court invalidated the recent presidential run-off election results and has ordered a second run-off election for Sunday, Dec. 26.