Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, age 81, is a beloved figure in Ukraine.
Born in Ukraine, his family fled turmoil during the Second World War and he grew up in the United States. He became a Ukrainian Greek Catholic priest in 1958, eventually moving back to his homeland to help guide its course after independence from the Soviet Union.
Cardinal Husar even renounced U.S. citizenship in order to fully participate in Ukrainian life — especially, to be able to vote.
Although the cardinal strongly supports Ukraine’s Western orientation in terms of rule of law, greater transparency, and independence from Russia — and he participated in Kiev’s Maidan protests last winter — he is wary of swallowing everything whole.
“All religions have the same concerns not to allow those negative, immoral influences enter Ukraine,” the nearly-blind prelate told me, adding, “We would like to be part of the European Union, but we are not enthused about taking everything that is coming from Europe.”
Unfortunately, the wolves of Western decadence already roam Ukraine.
On Ukraine’s election night last Sunday, in a restaurant just 100 feet from where more than 100 people died on Maidan Square defending an ideal of freedom, I witnessed an American man in his late 70s trying to enslave young Ukrainian women.
“Robert,” who looked a lot like Hugh Hefner, sat at the table next to me while a Russian grandmother, acting as a pimp, brought good looking women — all at least 50 years younger than him — to the table every 10 minutes for an “interview.” The goal was sexual capture, although he claimed he was shopping for a new wife.
This wealthy egomaniac was cheerfully pretending to offer naïve Ukrainian women a golden ticket, when the result would invariably be spiritual and psychological deprivation.
“Ukraine doesn’t need the likes of you,” I hissed at Robert, unable to contain my anger at the pain this flesh merchant was bound to cause.
“This is a business,” he snarled at me — as though all financial transactions are morally neutral.
Ukraine by the numbers is very unwell, suggesting, when a public sector is captured by bandits the entire society suffers grievously.
Prostitution and sex tourism thrive in Ukraine— among the only growth industries. In 2012 and 2013, the country had zero growth, driving many abroad in search of jobs or cash in places like the voracious commercial sex market in Germany, where most prostituted Ukrainian women are victims of sex trafficking.
The Ukraine government has been so indifferent to the trafficking of its own people it ranked close to the bottom of the U.S. State Department’s human trafficking ratings in 2012 and 2013.
Life expectancy has declined since independence from the Soviet Union. The average man lives until age 62; women live 12 years longer.
Alcoholism, heart disease, and smoking are rampant. Ukraine’s HIV infection rate is higher than anywhere in Europe, largely driven by intravenous drug use. More than 80% of current infections are in people under 30 years old.
Maidan started as a protest about membership in the European Union but it evolved into a stand against all the harm that comes from a regime serving itself, not the public.
Ukrainian Greek Catholic Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, age 44, told me the Church is now trying to help Ukrainians “build a new society. We’re preaching on values, a divine moral law. We’re trying to foster freedom in our faithful.”
He continued, “Maidan created some new circumstances to appreciate spiritual life and understand the place and role of the Church. Many are looking for deeper explanation about what’s going on in Ukraine. Many feel their own world is falling apart; no one can tell what will happen tomorrow or a year from now. Those answers can only be given by the Christian faith. This is why our Church is growing; we’re trying to answer those transcendental questions.”
Among the Shrines
Humility walks with me among the shrines on Maidan Square in downtown Kiev.
Deep brown horse chestnuts, arranged in the shape of a cross, mark the wall where eight men died eight months ago.
Nearby, packing tape around a tree trunk unites a Divine Mercy Christ with a photograph of an angelic, curly-headed youngster, killed during clashes between civilian demonstrators and security forces on Maidan Square.
Up the street, people walking to a bus stop must step around a throng of upright photos of the dead, known as the “Heavenly Hundred,” clustered like a flock of birds; most passersby bow their heads and cross themselves in the double right-to-left gesture of Orthodox Christians.
Most of the dead were too young to have lived under communism. Most of the dead grew up, ostensibly, in a democratic country (because it had elections), but a place so smothered by elite theft that regular people can hardly survive.
As Archbishop Shevchuk explains in the Church-supported film Revolution of Dignity, the protesters were fed up with the “lies and corruption which has virtually ruined the country.”
Like a gigantic cloud, unrestrained vultures circle Ukraine. The wicked who have picked the place apart circle still.