A Country Struggling Toward the Future

Abandoning Its Soviet Past Is Harder Than First Thought

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KIEV, Ukraine, JUNE 22, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Ukraine is a country in transition, trying to overcome the inefficiencies and environmental damage left by the Soviet era.

This is the country John Paul II faces when he visits from June 23-27.

It will not be the first time Karol Wojtyla set foot on Ukrainian soil. At age 19 he was in a part of Poland that is now western Ukraine -- this according to a July 1939 photo published Thursday by the Italian daily Il Giornale. The photo shows the young Pope-to-be when he was doing his military service, two months before the outbreak of World War II.

According to Anatoly Zlenko, president of the papal visit organization committee, the Holy Father´s trip is one of the most important events in the country´s history.

By inviting the Pope, President Leonid D. Kuchma wishes to show the world that his country has something more to offer than corruption and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which is still causing health problems.

It is the latest gesture by the former official of the Communist regime, who seeks dialogue with Russia and the West to strengthen his country´s independence.

Despite its energy deficit, especially since the closure of Chernobyl, Ukraine has potential to be a rich country. Its territory, which is slightly smaller than Texas, has fertile soil, numerous rivers and enormous mineral resources.

But its Communist-built industrial enterprises are obsolete and damaging to the environment. And the Communist Party, the most influential political force in Parliament, is attached to old habits.

In general, Ukraine is experiencing severe social, economic and political problems. Recent protests against President Leonid Kuchma, who was blamed for the death of a journalist, were only the tip of the iceberg.

"The situation in Ukraine is very serious and complex, but not tragic," said Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, major archbishop of Lviv. "These are the pains proper to the transition from a Communist past to a democratic future. All the pus of the Ukrainian body politic must come out."

"Of course, it will not be the last crisis," he added. "There will be others. However, I hope they will remain on the margins of rationality; I hope there won´t be madmen who begin to launch a revolution."

Ukrainian Bohdan Osadczuk, professor emeritus of the Free University of Berlin, believes that Ukraine´s future depends on its capacity to free itself from the heavy yoke of inefficient and outdated industrial structures.

"Since the time of Nikita Khrushchev, indispensable investments are lacking, and all industrial structures have been neglected," he explained. "People are also lacking who could carry out reforms."

He added: "Young people are the hope, they have started to be formed in a different atmosphere, of freedom."