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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 3, No. 24, 26 June 2001

A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team


POPE OPENS VISIT TO UKRAINE. Pope John Paul II arrived in Kyiv on 23 June to start a five-day visit to Ukraine.

It is the first time any pope has visited Ukraine, whose 50 million population is predominantly Orthodox. There are around 6 million Ukrainian Catholics, mostly Greek Catholics (or Uniates), who observe Eastern-rite ritual but accept the pope's supremacy.

Most believers belong to the three Orthodox churches that exist in the country. Two of those are Ukrainian and have welcomed the pope's visit, but the third is a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church and has fiercely opposed the visit.

Believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) held protests in Kyiv last week and some, including priests, have threatened to disrupt the pope's tour by blocking the roads he will travel along and by infiltrating the four open-air services he will conduct during his five-day stay.

However, there was calm at the start of the visit when Pope John Paul II arrived at Kyiv's main airport, where he was welcomed by President Leonid Kuchma.

The pope accepted the traditional Ukrainian welcoming gift of a bowl of salt and bread, and in a gesture that has long been a hallmark of his foreign tours he kissed a bowl containing some of the country's soil.

The pope made a 25-minute speech in Ukrainian in which he said, "I have long waited to make this journey and am overjoyed that it has come to pass."

The Ukrainian Catholic Church was banned by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1944. Many of its priests and faithful were executed or died in the gulags. The pope said that an important aim of his visit is to commemorate the suffering of Catholics who kept their faith alive during the communist era by holding secret services in safe houses or in forests and whose priests worked underground.

The pope greeted all the faiths in Ukraine in his opening message and said that he has come to Ukraine as part of his passionately held desire to try to reconcile the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Russian Orthodox leaders are angry that churches and property confiscated by the communists and handed over to the Russian Orthodox Church -- the only one allowed to function by Stalin -- have been returned to the Ukrainian Catholic Church. They also accuse the pope of proselytizing.

During his speech at the airport, the pope denied that he had come to proselytize. He said, "I have not come with the intention of proselytizing but to bear witness to Christ together with all Christians with every church."

As on a difficult trip to Greece earlier this year, the pope said Catholics and Orthodox should seek forgiveness for offenses against each other since the 1054 schism that split the eastern Orthodox and western Catholic churches.

Because of fears that some Orthodox believers may try to disrupt the tour, the Ukrainian authorities have put a massive security operation in place. The Ukrainian intelligence service also said they had received a warning from Interpol about the possibility of an assassination attempt against the pope.

On 25 June, the Pope is to fly to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, where he will hold two masses. In both Kyiv and Lviv he will hold one Roman Catholic mass and one Greek Catholic mass.

Organizers of his trip say that a total of up to 2 million people may attend the four masses. However, the largest attendance is expected in Lviv. Western Ukraine is where most of the country's Catholics are concentrated and where the area's predominantly Greek Catholic faith has always been closely tied to Ukrainians' desire for independence during a long history of occupations by other powers.

At the final mass in Lviv, the pope will beatify 27 people who perished -- mostly at the hands of the communists -- for their beliefs. All of them were Greek Catholics except for one Roman Catholic.

RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.

POPE PREACHES TO HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS IN LVIV... Pope John Paul II preached on 26 June to the largest crowd of his Ukrainian trip at a hippodrome near Lviv, world agencies reported. According to different estimates, the crowd numbered 300,000-600,000. In a homily read in both Ukrainian and Polish, the pope urged Ukrainians and Poles to look to the future and live in harmony. "It is time to leave behind the sorrowful past. The Christians of the two nations must walk together," Reuters quoted the pontiff as saying. In a Polish-language ceremony, the pope beatified two Roman Catholic priests from the 19th century. JM

...PAYS TRIBUTE TO HOLOCAUST VICTIMS AT BABI YAR. The previous day, following a mass in Kyiv, John Paul II held a silent prayer at the Babi Yar ravine outside the Ukrainian capital. Babi Yar became a symbol of the Holocaust of Ukrainian Jews. In September 1941, the Germans killed some 33,000 Jews within several days and buried them in the ravine. Over the next two years, the death toll at Babi Yar rose to some 200,000, most of whom were Jews, Roma, and Soviet prisoners of war. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS DEPUTY PREMIER FOR ECONOMY. Leonid Kuchma on 25 June filled the last vacant post in Premier Anatoliy Kinakh's cabinet, naming Economy Minister Vasyl Rohovyy as deputy prime minister in charge of economic policy, Interfax reported. Rohovyy told journalists after the nomination that he is not going to work as both minister and deputy premier, while presidential staff head Volodymyr Lytvyn said he does not rule out that Rohovyy will perform both functions in the government. JM

MOSCOW TO CREATE SPECIAL ANTI-MONEY-LAUNDERING AGENCY. Deputy Finance Minister Yurii Lvov told Interfax-AFI on 25 June that the government plans to create a special agency to combat money laundering as soon as the Duma passes the necessary legislation. PG

CHERNOMYRDIN DENIES HE'S A BILLIONAIRE. Viktor Chernomyrdin, onetime prime minister and head of Gazprom who now serves as Russia's ambassador to Ukraine, called the "Forbes" magazine report that he has a $1.1 billion fortune "absurd," Interfax reported on 25 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2001). Chernomyrdin added that if the magazine can show him where the billions are, he will give the money to Forbes and another $100 million to Interfax. VY

SELEZNEV SEES RUSSIA-BELARUS UNION DEVELOPING LIKE EU. Duma Speaker Seleznev said on 25 June that he believes the Russia-Belarus Union can grow into a formation similar to the European Union, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the EU is "a very clever organization that has borrowed a lot of useful things from the Soviet Union" -- including the lack of internal borders, a single currency, and a single planning system. Seleznev added that the peoples but not yet the governments of Ukraine, Armenia, and Moldova want to join this union. PG