Bishop Borys Gudziak is the Bishop of the Eparchy of St. Volodymyr the Great in Paris for the Ukrainian Greek Catholics of France, Benelux and Switzerland; Head of the Department of External Church Relations for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and President of the Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv.
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For the past year, every day we see and hear of painful numbers – x servicemen and y civilians killed by shelling in eastern Ukraine. A year ago the death of the Heavenly Hundred on the Euromaidan in Kyiv moved the world. Today, it seems that death becomes a statistic. Numerous deaths become depersonalized. Without names even supreme sacrifice—and our own responsibility in its regard—become blurred.
So let me give you one name, let me tell you about one young man whose life and death help explain the developments in Ukraine today.
Bohdan Solchanyk was 28 years old. A promising Historian, a faculty member at the Ukrainian Catholic University, a poet, a young man in love. He sought to understand the past of his country while fully engaging in its present struggle for dignity in order to build a better future. That future included marriage to Maria Pohorilko, herself an aspiring Historian, PhD student, and UCU graduate. They both wanted to live with dignity. They hoped to share the story of their country with students, with readers of their articles and books, and with the world at large.
Alas, the final episode in the life of Bohdan occurred on February 20. Along with some 80 other unarmed idealists, European-minded Ukrainians, Bohdan was brutally shot and killed by government snipers in the central square of the capital of Ukraine, as the world’s TV cameras showed the slaughter live.
The message of Bohdan’s life and death is simple. It is a message that Europe and the world need to hear at a time of great anxiety and confusion surrounding Ukraine and Russia. This confusion is largely created by the propaganda of those who despise Bohdan’s vision of life, and are confounded by his very life of sacrifice.
Bohdan was one of the millions who for months assembled peacefully, joyfully, with song, with prayer, with poetry, with street theater, with music and dance in the very center of Kyiv and many other towns and cities in Ukraine. Their goal was simple: to manifest their desire for freedom, liberty of the press, vitality of civil society, justice in the court system, freedom from corruption in business, politics, education, and the medical system. In one word: a life of dignity. A life guaranteed to most Europeans.
Bohdan’s life was cut short because his civic position was a threat to authoritarianism, cronyism, and corruption. He was a threat to radical social inequality with oligarchs and politicians living in vulgar opulence while the rest of the population struggled to survive. He was killed because people in power feared his song and his joy, the dance of millions and the solidarity of a nation.
Bohdan had been in the forefront of social protest over the last 10 years, since the Orange Revolution in 2004 when he was 19 years old. He was not paid by American agents to stand in the middle of the night in -15°C. He was not a puppet of an external scheme. He was not a secret provocateur of the European Union.
He was a human being who recognized his own God-given dignity and wanted that dignity to be ensured for all Ukrainians.
Bohdan’s death and the death of the first hundred Ukrainians killed mercilessly by the riot police and security services led to the collapse of the Yanukovych regime. Yanukovych fled because his security forces no longer could sustain the brutality to which they were instigated. Enough was enough. They realized that criminal methods no longer could control the country. The paschal sacrifice of innocents, the spilling of blood—the most profound and awesome sacrament—toppled an unjust tyranny.
The collapse of tyranny in Kyiv, Ukraine’s song, civil society, freedom of the press and public assembly could not be endured, however, by the president of Russia. Ukraine had to be punished. Crimea had to be annexed; an artificial war had to be created to bring to its knees a society that dared to defend its dignity. It was to be proved that Ukraine is a failed state and that Bohdan Solchanyk died in vain.
That is the story of Bohdan Solchanyk and the millions who stood with him. That is the explanation of what is happening in Ukraine today. There are many factors and many issues of a complex story but at its heart is a pilgrimage from fear to dignity, from authoritarianism to liberty, from corruption to justice—ultimately from death to life. It is a paschal story.
On February 20 Ukrainians and all friends of Ukraine commemorated the sacrifice in blood of the Heavenly Hundred – the first hundred to die on the road to dignity. They will commemorate the 5500 soldiers and civilians killed because of the invasion of their country. As they commemorate the dead, Ukrainians and their true friends address the humanitarian crisis of the living, the tens of thousands of wounded, thousands of widows and orphans, the 1.5 million displaced, the 5 million directly touched by the war. For us who are people of faith, who follow Christ, and celebrate His passion and Paschal victory, the sacrifice of Bohdan and his colleagues is a reminder of the testimony of the martyrs. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). These are the words of our Lord. They explain this painful anniversary and the heart of the events happening today in Ukraine.