The Catholic News Service reported recently that Fr. Mykhailo Milchakovskyi, a Ukrainian Catholic priest and military chaplain in Crimea, had told them that Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) had approached him to ask him if he “recognized the new order” in Crimea.
Fr. Milchakovskyi apparently explained to the Catholic News Service that: “all my parishioners are patriotic Ukrainians who love their Crimean homeland. But Russia is now seeking to drive us out”. He went on to say that: “members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church are fleeing Crimea to escape threats of arrest and property seizures.”
Since then various news outlets have picked up on this story. America Magazine reported that “Ukrainian Catholics Flee Crimea”. The Catholic Herald reported “Priest: Ukrainian Catholics flee Crimea to escape threats of arrest”. The Telegraph reported “Crimea: now Putin comes after the Catholics” and the National Catholic Reporter informed us that “Ukrainian Catholics fear 'new oppression' after Russian takeover”.
The interesting thing about all of these news reports is that they are based entirely on the account of just one man, Fr. Milchakovskyi. Not a single one of these news outlets appears to have made any effort whatsoever to actually verify, through other sources, the account given by this priest.
One has to ask why these news outlets, especially the Catholic ones, have been so quick to report on this unsubstantiated account while at the same time they have chosen to completely ignore the many other substantiated accounts of violence and intimidation that are taking place in the Ukraine at the moment.
Take for example the account of Rabbi Cohen, the head of the Ukrainian branch of Hatzalah, an international volunteer emergency services organization for Jewish communities, who was publicly attacked while anti-Semitic slurs were hurled at him in Kiev.
Then there is Mikhail Kapustin, rabbi of Sevastopol and Ukraine, who found swastikas drawn on his synagogue and a spine chilling message “Death to the Jews” written on the wall of his home. The Ukrainian police only bothered to turn up two weeks after the incident had taken place.
We can of course also not forget about the leaked telephone conversation in which Yulia Tymoshenko is heard saying “Ukrainians must take up arms against Russians so that not even scorched earth will be left where Russia stands”. She is also heard saying that “it’s about time we grab our guns and go kill those damn Russians together with their leader”.
I cannot help but get the sense that often we western Catholics forget that all people in this world are in fact our brothers and sisters. I think that many of us have been so firmly indoctrinated into believing that a particular nation or group is our enemy, that we have become completely oblivious to the realities of what is taking place in the world. We are watching our brothers and sisters being intimidated and abused but remaining silent because of a senseless loyalty towards “our own”.
We should not be afraid to speak out about all atrocities, even if they are committed by “our own” side. If we don’t do so we are like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan who crossed over to the other side of the street when they saw the man lying beaten and dying on the side of the road.[i]