Ukrainian Rector Uneasy About Religious Freedom

Laments Poverty and Disregard for Civil Liberties

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LVIV, Ukraine, NOV. 25, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University warns that "religious freedom is under threat" in his country.



During a telephone interview with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Father Borys Gudziak said there is no persecution of the Church as in former Soviet times.

Yet, "the disregard for civil liberties and human rights on the part of the current regime as well as the extreme poverty of the population, resulting from corruption and mismanagement of the old power clans," make it impossible for families "to lead a normal Christian life," the rector said.

Ukraine is facing a crisis over its recent presidential election. The country's Supreme Court ruled today that the results of the election are not official until it hears an appeal from Viktor Yushchenko, who says it was stolen from him.

It was unclear whether the court even has the right to annul the vote count that gave victory to the Kremlin-backed candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the Associated Press reported.

Over the past few years, some 5 million Ukrainians have gone abroad in search of employment, leaving many families motherless or fatherless.

According to Father Gudziak, in such dramatic poverty a Christian education is unaffordable. The sense of despair, he said, has led to a rise in alcoholism, and the life expectancy of Ukrainians has dropped to 55 years, one of the lowest in Europe.

"The Church stands by the people who are pinning their dignity on these elections, because dignity is rooted in truth," said Father Gudziak.

"If the true results of these elections are denied, it means that not only civil rights, but also the voters' dignity is being trampled underfoot," he added. "This is a profoundly ethical question. The peaceful protest of millions of Ukrainians in almost all of the cities shows that people see their freedom and dignity jeopardized."

The university rector said that he is worried about "Moscow's open efforts to meddle in our internal affairs. Although no Russian military forces have been seen so far, the government has not denied rumors ... that Russian special forces are already present in the country."