Religion & Culture in Ukraine

I’ve been reading a book that explores early 20th century Ukrainian history through narrative and I'm learning about Ukraine's rich culture. Sunflowers under Fire (Diana Stevan) was a Whistler Independent Book Finalist in 2019. The author explores her family’s experiences in western Volhynia, which was under Polish influence. (As opposed to my family’s experiences in eastern Volhynia, under Soviet influence).

In Conversation in Volhynian village 

As the descendant of German Russians, these Ukrainian traditions, many revolving around religion, are new to me. The faith practices of Ukrainians, Russians, and Germans were suppressed under communism and both orthodox and protestant churches were outlawed. Karl Marx called religion “the opiate of the masses.”   

Church buildings were re-purposed to store grain throughout the Soviet times while church bells were melted for the war effort. Religious meetings, outside of churches, were also banned. My own grandfather, on trial in the summer of 1937 during the Great Terror, had been charged with, among other things, having a bible in his possession. 

German Baptist church
 in Neudorf, Volhynia

Touring Kyiv back in 2004, the only thing bigger and grander than the monuments celebrating the victory of the Second World War, were the re-finished churches. Their gold-plated roofs glittered in the sun. Was it always the same old woman—ubiquitous at many of the grand sites, gold teeth matching the gold cupolas—sweeping for alms?  Of course not. That could have been my own mom had she not finally made it to Canada.

The alternative to religion, for those abused by atheism and poverty, seemed to be a homemade distillery. And those were also ubiquitous on my travels through 21st century rural Ukraine. 

Homemade vodka in Ukrainian village
Since the fall of the Soviet state, religion is again braided together with tradition, culture and politics. It's a rather messy braid, I'd say.  

Churches, ostentatious with power and wealth, still prey upon the already humbled. 
Perchersk Lavra Kyiv

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