03/13/2014, 00.00
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Crimea: on the eve of the referendum the Ukrainian Church appeals for the country's integrity

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate and the Patriarchate of Moscow warn of the risks of secession. Archbishop Klyment accuses Europe of watching idly. Metropolitan Onufry calls on Russia not to divide the Ukraine. If it does, it will open a bloody wound that will be reflected painfully on the relations between the two brotherly peoples.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The life of Ukrainians in Crimea is presently under threat, warned Klyment, Archbishop of Simferopol and Crimea of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate, just days before the 16 March referendum on the peninsula's annexation to Russia.

"All the propaganda is pushing the message that if you are a Ukrainian, you are a Bandera supporter, and should be killed," he said at a press conference at the Ukraine Crisis Media Center. Stepan Bandera is a 20th century Ukrainian ultranationalist, who is admired in western Ukraine and seen as pro-Hitler in eastern Ukraine and Russia.

Speaking out publicly twice this week in Simferopol, the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Klyment called on the faithful to pray for peace and the integrity of the country, joining members of the clergy, Euromaidan movement activists and representatives of the Crimean Tatar community (12 per cent of the population).

These are the three main groups who now dare challenge Crimea's pro-Russian self-defence army, whose gun-toting men are everywhere in the region's cities, threatening and deterring anyone who wants to express support for the central government in Kyiv or opposition to the "Russian occupation".

"Maidan" or "Ukraine" are considered "provocative" concepts in the Crimea, the only region in the country with a Russian majority whose local parliament has already voted for secession and in fact expects to be annexed by Moscow, as campaign leaflets suggest.

Meanwhile, "Europe remains a passive observer, just as it did in 1933 during the artificial famine in Ukraine, and in 1941, when Nazi were shooting Jews. Meanwhile, the situation here grows more and more threatening," Klyment lamented.

Bemoaning attacks against journalists, the Orthodox archbishop highlighted the plight of Anatoli Kovalsky and Andrei Schekun, two of the organisers of the Euromaidan Crimea movement, who went missing on Sunday, seized by pro-Russian activists.

By contrast, the temporary head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Onufry, is less alarmist. Nevertheless, he too made another appeal for social harmony and the country's integrity.

"We must help people understand that problems must be solved in a peaceful way, that one cannot offend others, much less kill them," the Metropolitan said in an interview with the paper of the Moscow Patriarchate.

For Onufry, what is happening now in Ukraine "is a test of our love for God and our neighbours." And in view of this, he calls on the faithful to pray, engaging in a closer relationship with God in order to find "the right way out of any political situation."

Similarly, on the initiative of Metropolitan Lazar of Simferopol and Crimea (Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate), prayers will be said for peace in all the churches and monasteries of Crimea until Saturday.

Speaking about Ukraine, Onufry notes that it is a "multinational" country. "We have Tatars, Russians, Romanians, Moldovans, and Ukrainians," he explained. Hence, "We must learn to respect the culture of others. The cause of tensions lies mostly in the fact that one part, at some point, began to impose its culture, its way of thinking on everyone else."

"Instead, we should learn to respect each other," whether in "(pro-Russia) eastern Ukraine or in (pro-Europe) Western Ukraine," he said.

"My most fervent desire as bishop of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is that Russia does everything possible to preserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Otherwise, it will inflict a bloody wound to the unity of our two peoples, which will be painfully reflected on our mutual relations." (N.A.)

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