June 2, 2014
Pastor Serhiy Demydovych, Interviewed by Tetiana Rudenka
Serhiy Demyovych, pastor of the Good News Church in Sloviansk on the situation in his city, reconsidering his own Christian position, challenges to the evangelical churches and relations with Russian protestants brought about by recent events. Because of his professional activities he had to leave Sloviansk.
– Serhiy, you have lived in Sloviansk for many years. Explain who are the people who are fighting there?
– In Sloviansk there are actually some people who truly believe that Ukraine should be a part of Russia. But most of the militants are people with complex lives. They either had problems with the law or are poor or alcoholics. These people have a reason to hate life and everyone around them.
There is a young man on my street. Prior to these events he was would ride on his moped and was unremarkable – and suddenly found himself at the center of power. He was assigned to patrol a street, and that’s where he built a barricade. This kid always stopped me, checked what I was carrying and where I was going. I saw him unloading “Molotov cocktails”. I’m surprised that this young man is going to lead me to a brighter future.
– Are there any Russian militants?
– There are different people. No one showed me his passport. But when they say “don’t step over ‘porebryk’ [curb]”, it’s clear who they are. This word is used only in St. Petersburg. The locals do not shoot down helicopters. Equipment and weapons are not their strength either. So I think that in the city there are Russian militants.
– How would you define the events currently taking place in Slaoviansk?
– The Maidan in Kyiv was a Revolution of Dignity. I agree with that. And I think the events in Sloviansk and all over Donbas are a proletarian revolution. Unlike Maidan, in Sloviansk there is no place for discussion. You have no right to a different opinion. The intellectual level of the rebels is such that your slightest disagreement is perceived as a personal insult. The events in my city resemble Somalia: the same level of aggression, claims, lack of justice and law. My friend simply gave an interview to journalists. After that the neighbors contacted her and said they would kill her when she returns. People do not want someone to have a different opinion.
– Then why are people supporting the militants?
– After Yanukovych’s escape and attempts to reverse the law on language, the talk about the oppression of the Russian language began. It was a provocation or just a stupid decision and it worked. The new authorities should have communicated with the people.
Do you know that feeling of the brotherhood, which exists in the army? It’s not important who you are: tall, short, good or bad – we are countrymen, and need to stick together. In the east something like this worked. Those, who are over there, are the enemy, while here – we are united. Propaganda works. People believe the information about the Nazis and the banderites. Many locals support the militants. Nevertheless, as a pastor, I believe that Christians should remember that regardless of their views, they are humans too. After the hostilities we will have to continue to live together somehow.
– Recently, the terrorists fired at an orphanage and rehabilitation center that belongs to your church. Tell us more about this.
– The militants firing from the territory of the orphanage, from where they have a direct line of fire of the TV tower. The Ukrainian military fired back. Consequently the interior of the building was damaged. The militants set up mortar installations between residential buildings, near schools so that the army couldn’t return fire. Perhaps the Ukrainian military knew that there were no children in the building, that they were evacuated prior to firing. That’s why they fired back. On the night on April 21 our rehabilitation center was hit. Three of our buildings, the church, orphanage and the rehabilitation center were under attack. In my opinion, the militant’s moral hatred reveals itself in these situations.
– Is the church subject to direct threats from the militants?
– The situation of the Church is difficult. I cannot talk about it, in order not to make it more difficult.
– Was your brother Oleksiy Demydovych held captive by the militants in the SBU building?
– My brother stayed away from politics. He has the heart of a pastor. It seems that they simply wanted to frighten him. He was kept prisoner in the basement for seven hours. There were no clear allegations. He was not beaten. Many people were praying for him. I can’t tell you anything else.
– Why can’t you go back to your hometown?
– As a journalist, I decided to be unbiased in my reporting of events in Sloviansk. That has become very dangerous to do.
Besides, there is an prevailing view that Protestants are linked to the West. Allegedly they are trained or financed from there. This is not true. Such information may have be at the root of the pressure being brought on me. They have came to my house with a search warrant. It is dangerous to go to Sloviansk now.
– What is the situation of the churches in the Donbas right now?
– The Evangelical Churches are in a difficult situation, but they are supporting each other. The Kyivan Patriarchate is also in a difficult situation. Unfortunately, the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is on the other side of the barricades. During Maidan everything happened under the divine sign – the people were united by trouble. All prayed together. In the East there is no such a spirit of humility. I remember a rally in Kharkiv after Yanukovych’s escape. First an MP spoke and started to pray. He started to say “Our Father” and in a moment guards ran up to him and took him away. Then it became clear that in the east everything will be different.
– What is your church doing now?
– When the tragic events began, we have evacuated a lot of families. I was away from Sloviansk, so I could arrange for some help. People are supporting us financially. We are even receiving some aid from Russia – both personal and from the churches.
One guy from Russia argued with me on Facebook. He did not share my stance, yet he supported us financially in spite of that. In fact, people are kinder and more humane than they show. When the House of Trade Unions was burning in Odesa – the majority of football fans did their best to save those who had just attacked them.
We all need to be more humane. Our church, for example, helps the families of the deceased militants. I think that is right. The Church’s calling is to love our enemies, care for them, and not to treat anyone as being unworthy of assistance. After the tragic events end, the Ukrainian nation’s healing can occur only through forgiveness, love and honesty.
– In your opinion, what challenges will the Christian community face after the events on Maidan and the invasion of Ukraine by?
– This is where my theology collapses. The events on Maidan were far from us; at that point we could easily say that we don’t meddle in politics.
I was born in a Christian family. Back in my childhood yet, the Soviet government was hostile to Christians. Personally, I was spit in the eye, insulted, mocked and even fined. At that time it was clear – the state was the enemy. We never knew and could never make friends with the state and didn’t understand how we could help it. Protestant Churches have just now started to learn this. Some people still believe that the Church is beyond politics, that we should just pray. I used to think so too.
I never visited Maidan. However, when the tanks came into my town, a question arose: “At what point should I stop praying and start holding back the evil not only with prayer, but physically?” Protestant churches have to rethink the social aspect of the church life and formulate a new social theology for themselves.
– In what way should these changes take place?
– Recent events in Ukraine are a major challenge for the evangelical movement. Protestants need to change their attitude toward the authorities. How should we understand the statement: “There is no authority except that which God has established?” One power brought the country to a crisis situation. Now we have an leadership, which toppled its predecessors, but they are legitimate. The people, who seized the administrative building in my city also declared themselves a legitimate government. There are also representatives of a neighboring country, who helped Yanukovych and are now helping the militants. We have four governments. Which one is legitimate? In the traditional interpretation the claim that every authority is established by God is wrong. For there is an illegal power that took up arms. And we had a legitimately elected power, but it became so corrupted that God swept it away. We see similar cases in history. Do the Evangelical churches need to rethink what we believe in?
– Did you communicate with the Protestants in Russia during the events in Sloviansk?
– Yes, but mostly through social networks. I was often reproached. Some of them said, “You were passive, you did not support Maidan – and now there are tanks in the city”, while others, to the contrary, said: “you were loyal to Maidan – now there are tanks in Sloviansk”. I felt guilty before all of them. At such moments one’s faith is tested, how much we love, the depth of our beliefs.
One should not be the kind of Ukrainian who hates Russians. One should not be the kind of Russian, who hates Ukrainians. There are Russians who are our brothers in the faith, they were kind to me, but will not receive me in their church because I am a patriot of Ukraine. From many of my Russian friends I heard everything that Russian television speakers about. I believe they spoke sincerely. But this is not the truth. In this situation, the Church needs spiritual enlightenment.
– How to improve relations between people, when within the country people have such different views of the same things?
– Love in this case is above justice. After all, justice does not heal – everyone thinks of his own rightness. If Eastern and Western Ukraine are guided by justice, they won’t come to an agreement. We have to be wise and seek what unites us, to extend to each other a hand of friendship and assistance. When Lviv spoke Russian – it healed.
– Can this model be used in relations with Russia?
– With Russia it sounds one way, and with the Christians in a different way. The Christians have the thing that unites them. It should be admitted that regardless of their understanding of faith they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Serhiy Demydovych is a noted Christian journalist and broadcaster, one of the leaders of national adoption project “You will be found”, and a well-known Christian author and performer.
Edited by Myron Spolsky