Last week a despicable incident, taken straight from the “finer” pages of the history of the Soviet era, took place in Kharkiv. A group of so-called communists smashed the plaque commemorating Josyf Cardinal Slipyj, which was hung on a building at 5 Malynovsky Street. Slipyj was the patriarch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church whose faithful were persecuted and outlawed in the Soviet era.
The building in question was where Slipyj was imprisoned for a time in 1961. The plaque was solemnly unveiled in 2005 with assistance from the Board of Directors of the Ukrainian World Congress.
According to the Kharkiv regional branch of the Union of Ukrainian Youth (SUM), the commemorative plaque was smashed to bits by a group of belligerent pensioners. Today the former transit jail houses a traffic police station, yet no one inside noticed the wild escapade of the aging communists.
Now that the plaque has been returned to its rightful place, the question on many people’s minds is: how many more generations of communists will continue to target it?
Many people in Kharkiv were appalled by the outrageous act desecrating the memory of a person whose fate was once a matter of concern for the entire civilized world.
Last Monday crowds of people gathered at the place where the vandalism occurred. Besides members of various right-wing political parties and civic organizations, there were also some clergymen present. Kharkiv’s Orthodox believers also came to express their indignation at the desecration of the memory of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic hierarch.
In his speech Archbishop Ihor of Kharkiv and Poltava (Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church) emphasized that the destruction of the plaque was a purely political act. Vasyl Tretetsky, head of the regional branch of the Ukrainian People’s Party, said that the plaque’s destruction was the handiwork of left-wing forces, such as communists, progressive socialists, and members of the Russian Bloc. Many Kharkivites think this is just the beginning of a new wave of left-wing provocations. Many politicians are calling for legal proceedings to be instituted against the vandals.
Shortly after the incident a new plaque was made. It is the same as the previous one, only twice as thick — much to the chagrin of local vandals. The new plaque will also be insured for a handsome amount.
Clergymen and the faithful of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church’s Kharkiv and Poltava eparchy took part in a procession from St. Dimitry’s Church to the building where Cardinal Slipyj was imprisoned and later attended the ceremony to bless the new commemorative plaque.
The head of the eparchy, Archbishop Ihor (Isychenko), apologized on behalf of Kharkiv’s Orthodox residents to the city’s Catholic communities and assured them that no Christian believer could have been involved in the barbaric act that destroyed a religious object depicting the holy cross, a symbol of the religious exploits of the Ukrainian Catholic hierarch who was persecuted by the ungodly Soviet government for his faith. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) has not condemned this godless act.
Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj assumed the leadership of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the most difficult period of its history — in 1944, after the death of Metropolitan Andrei Sheptytsky in Lviv. In 1945, when the Kremlin decided to liquidate the UGCC, all the hierarchs of this church, including Metropolitan Slipyj, were arrested, tortured, and imprisoned. After 20 years of imprisonment and following numerous pleas on his behalf from world leaders, the gravely ill Slipyj was freed and allowed to emigrate to the West. Pope Paul VI bestowed the title of patriarch on him, thus expressing the Roman Catholic Church’s veneration for the martyrdom of Ukrainian Greek Catholics behind the Iron Curtain.