Poroshenko honours Ukraine Church leader derided by Russia
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday unveiled a monument to a Catholic Church leader derided by Moscow for initially welcoming Nazi soldiers during World War II.
Andriy Sheptytsky lead the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church for more than four decades and was always lionised by the nationalist west of the often fought-over east European state.
Sheptytsky died in 1944 just as Moscow’s Red Army had once again taken full control of Ukrainian territory and quashed its remaining independence dreams.
“The best possible memorial to the Metropolitan would be the independence of Ukraine,” Poroshenko said in televised comments from the western city of Lviv.
Sheptytsky has always been portrayed as a traitorous villain by Soviet textbooks for his initial support for Nazi soldiers and ardent backing of Ukrainian sovereignty in the decade preceding the war.
He was arrested by Soviet security agents in the wake of Russia’s 1917 revolution and kept under constant watch after his release.
But he has been exonerated by both the Vatican and the Yad Vashem centre for Holocaust research in Jerusalem.
Yad Vashem notes that Sheptytsky “helped dozens of Jews find refuge in his monasteries and even in his own home.
“At the same time, however, he supported the German army as the saviour of the Ukrainians from the Soviets, and endorsed the formation of a Ukrainian division within the (Nazi) SS,” the Jerusalem centre says.
Pope Francis this month proclaimed Sheptytsky “venerable” — a designation that opens the door to his eventual sainthood.
Ukraine is a largely conservative nation split between those faithful to various Orthodox Churches as well as Catholics.
The Russian Orthodox Church plays its biggest role in eastern Ukraine — an industrial region shattered by 15 months of separatist fighting that has claimed more than 6,800 lives.