In September of 1990, I organized a group of over 50 clergy and lay people to visit and attend the “Youth for Christ Rally” held in Lviv. I started this effort in May of that year and was fortunate to have Stefa Ostapchuk organize the entire trip. It was an amazing trip.
It was also the first time that many returned home to visit relatives and friends. It was almost 50 years since my father had been home. It was also the first time that he visited the graves of his parents.
Ukraine was still a part of the Soviet Union which was collapsing quickly. The Church was exiting the catacombs. Greek Catholics were praying in the open air and reclaiming their churches and monasteries. A sense of freedom was growing.
I was present when the statue of Lenin was taken down in Lviv. The crowd that witnessed this event were silent when a chain attached to a truck was placed around Lenin’s body. As Lenin’s body collapsed everyone exhaled, there was a collective sense of relief, tears, and clapping. This was a deeply profound moment of emotional catharsis and of psychological healing.
I also participated in a memorial prayer service (parastas) at the site of a former prison in Drohobych; a place of torture and the execution of thousands of innocent Ukrainians. Bishop Julian Voronovsky presided. The site was Drohobych’s Pedagogical Institute that was closed now when the graves were being exhumed.
These two moments are permanently inscribed in my soul. Please join me in remembering such horrors every day.
One more memory. The watch towers and the barbed wire.
As our train from Budapest entered Ukraine I saw watch towers, a barbed wire fence, and a barren space on both sides of the border. These could be images of the perimeter of a concentration camp, of the GULAG, of Solovki, of the politics of imprisonment.
I had entered an imprisoned country, a place of death and the destruction of my Ukrainian people. It was at that time that I began to understand….
Let us fight Russian imperialism, Vladimir Putin and his ilk, and those that collude whoever they may be. Remember we are all from the GULAG because our families were imprisoned and held behind watch towers and barbed wire.