The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has proven and continues to prove that it is a bulwark of freedom and faith even as the ruthless Vladimir Putin destroys lives, families and the religious traditions of the Ukrainian people. One of the quiet heroes of this resistance is a dear friend of mine and my wife, Susan, Father Oleg Sknar.
Today, Father Oleg continues to tend to his flock even as missiles and rockets rain down around the capital of Kiev. Indeed, around his church. He prays for his parishioners; he prays for all Ukrainians. He prays that the peoples of the world will unite against the tyranny and tragedy that is the conflict currently tearing history and Ukraine apart. Indeed, he also prays for the Russian people, because they have been living under this booted thug for too long.
Father Oleg does more than just guide his followers as they seek help from him. Father Oleg also built and operates a military hospital that treats wounded returning from the front lines next to his church. He thus provides both spiritual and physical support to the people he loves so much.
A priest stands up to Russia
I visited Father Oleg for the first time in 2015. He had opened his church to provide medical care to Ukrainians who had fought and been injured during the liberation efforts in downtown Kyiv, the Maidan, a few blocks from its church.
He told me that the Russian Orthodox Church then threatened his life. If he provided relief and medical aid to Ukrainians fighting the Russian puppet regime, he would be held accountable. These threats came not only from Russian political leaders, but also from Russian Orthodox leaders. For Putin, the church is just another tool of power – he has used Christianity as a frontline effort to spread propaganda and fear. Putin used the church as a political cudgel to build on his imperialist agenda and truly faithful Christians wanted none of that – they wanted to worship the Lord, not Putin.
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Faced with these threats, Father Oleg prayed and served. He saved lives and souls.
Susan and I have now visited this church and broken bread with Father Oleg and his team on several occasions. As Secretary of State, I visited the military hospital and spoke with wounded soldiers there. As Putin launched his attack, Father Oleg stayed in touch with us, providing updates on what he is seeing and doing in this current crisis.
The conversations are not about high politics and strategy, but about his efforts to bring comfort, spiritual and medical, to everyone he meets. His hospital is open and ready. As God would require, he will treat all comers – Ukrainians and Russians alike. He will do it with love and compassion.
We can also help Father Oleg. We can demand that US energy be supplied to Ukraine – crude oil and natural gas – this will deprive Putin of the premium price he is getting today which is fueling his terror and will have the added benefit of lowering prices by energy here at home. We should demand that the international agency governing air travel – ICAO – ban Russian planes from landing anywhere in the world. The United Nations General Assembly should be forced to condemn this Russian aggression because – although such a vote would be largely oratorical – it would allow rights-respecting nations to unite in defense of human dignity and the sovereignty of nations. one voice. American support – intelligence, weapons, humanitarian aid – should be provided in massive quantities.
Father Oleg also told us that he was ready to fight. Fight for the independence of his nation. And for the independence of his church. When Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew took the bold and appropriate decision to grant autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, faithful Christians across Ukraine rejoiced. Father Oleg is proud to have been the first Ukrainian religious leader to sign the Tomas – the document granting his church independence from Muscovite rule. This act was both courageous and faithful. His courage continues today.
A warning from history
Not far from Father Oleg’s church is a memorial he asked me to go see in 2016, Babi Yar.
This memorial remembers the more than 30,000 Jews massacred during the Holocaust in just two days in 1941.
It’s a ravine, Kiev, where men have chosen to obey orders and kill their fellow human beings because of their faith. It is a reminder, as Father Oleg shared with me then, that evil still exists and believers of all faiths have a duty to resist it.
We pray for the Ukrainian people. We pray for Father Oleg and his family. Pray for their safety, of course. But also pray for their courage, their strength and their fidelity.
I know they will continue to be steadfast in their love of their Lord and their country. I know they will take risks and save lives. And I pray they will continue to be examples to the whole world that even in the midst of darkness, His light still shines in the heart of man.
Mike Pompeo was the director of the CIA under President Donald Trump.