Intercordia Director, Joe is in Ukraine … read his reflections here!

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Lviv: The streets are filling up with people again to protest the latest decision of the current Russian leaning government to NOT seek membership in the European Union. Last night bus loads of people went by bus to Kiev to return to Maidan Square, the scene of the Orange Revolution protests in 2004. The press claim there were about 100,000 people in the square. The fear among young people is that by not turning towards Europe for trade and support but rather to Russia, the old soviet influence will return and Ukraine will slowly be reabsorbed into the Russian sphere and all the undemocratic practices of the past. 

I spoke to one young woman who had even a wider concern, she said, “Ukrainians are always vulnerable to the influence of the foreigner. It has characterized our history for 800 years. Whether it is to Europe or Russia that we turn, the danger is that we will not be ourselves but a reflection of those who dominate us.” 

I certainly see a big change in Lviv in the 10+ years I have been visiting here. The beautiful old town centre with its Austrian/Hungarian architecture and flavor is now a shopping area with Gucci, Gap and the other fashion stores dominating. I know this is the only way to restore these areas but it is sad to see how the western influence is expressed in fashion and money and how tempting it is to people who were closed off from the outside world for the 50 years after the Second World War by the Soviet occupation. Gaining one’s freedom is a tricky road. There is often little time to reflect on the changes that happen so fast once independence is gained and to think through the consequences of choice and change. There has been a sense of hopelessness among the young since the revolution ended in political turmoil a few years back and they do not know in whom to place their trust. However this decision by the gov’t seems to have struck a chord and they are back in the streets! Democracy lives but it is messy!

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I spent the past weekend with about 100 parents of children (many of whom are now adults) with disabilities. They are so beautiful, and courageous and have suffered so much, these parents. For many years under the Soviet rule, there were no services for people with disabilities and people were just at home, which is often a small 2 room apartment with 2 or 3 generations living in it. Many of their children have profound physical and mental disabilities and care was difficult with often no heat or running water. They made do but of course the situation was hard for everyone. 

They love their children so much and have a deep spirituality that keeps them faithful. Today things are somewhat better, some of the people are now working in the L’Arche workshops where they make beautiful crafts and share a real sense of community with one another. There are some social services available in the big cities but in the villages and small towns there is not and still their children are at home with no meaningful work or programs. Some of those with disabilities are beginning to take care of their aging parents, which in many cases is not good but all that is possible. 

The reality here is very tough but the spirit is strong and I gain courage by being with people who have very hard lives but remain joyful and loving.

 

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“I am at a retreat Centre in the forest outside Lviv and it is quiet here! I am spending some days with chaplains who support people with disabilities from different cities and towns in western Ukraine. 

But in the rest of the country people are rising up! I was to meet someone in Lviv on Thursday morning but he called to say, “I must go to Kiev on Wednesday evening. The future of my country depends on every single person now!” That is nationalism at its best. It made me realize how complacent I can be about the concerns for democracy in Canada. 

What a difference it would make if every Canadian had that kind of passion and commitment! For many years here in Ukraine, the young people have become complacent having lost hope that there are political solutions for their problems. But this protest is spontaneous, from the heart and the future of Ukraine is at stake.”

 

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