THE Majdan, or Independence Square, in the centre of Kiev, the
capital of Ukraine, attracted the attention of the world in the
recent protests. A newspaper columnist, Ivan Tsyperdyuk, wrote in
Euromajdan: A chronicle of sensations, published last
month in Kiev: "The Majdan is our great, unseen church, where we go
to pray, to communicate, and at all costs preserve it. Therein lies
Majdan is a Turkish word, probably of Persian origin,
meaning a level field, as in a battlefield or military camp. It
links in my mind with the events of Holy Week, as I think of
Hebrews 13.13: "Let us go to Jesus outside the camp
[majdan], and bear the reproach he endures."
Up the steep hill from the Majdan is the presidential palace,
which was under siege last December - at the time when, inside the
German Lutheran church around the corner, members of the small
Anglican congregation Christ Church in Kiev were holding their
The Lutheran church offered its balconies for use as a field
hospital for the wounded of both sides in the street fighting. A
large red cross is still tied across the building.
Near by, Independence Square is still piled high with
barricades, heaped-up tyres, and a broken-down lorry
(below), its innards clawed out. It is said that all
Ukraine, but especially people from western Ukraine, united in
coming to the Majdan. Grandmothers with children in buggies,
students, Rightists, intellectuals, and churchpeople were all
there. And they camped. The snow came, and still they camped.
I have served Christ Church, Kiev, as a locum chaplain, several
times since its last priest left in 2005. The flat I stayed in
during my most recent visit, in December 2012, is now a charred
ruin - razed to the ground, the congregation told me.
Begun in 1999 as an Intercontinental Church Society initiative,
Christ Church soon built up a flourishing congregation attended by
many expats as well as Ukrainians, but now numbers have fallen to
about 15 regular worshippers.
There are five Anglican expats, all of different nationalities,
and the rest are Ukrainian, including families who are drawn to the
Anglican approach as well as to the English language. Most struggle
to survive, and some older women are destitute on tiny pensions of
£60-£70 a month - even less, now, as the currency is falling day by
The church has struggled to stay in existence, and it speaks for
its people's faith. They have matured over the years, and now they
are seeking God in troubled times. They ask me: "What will happen?"
It is hard to be optimistic.
A doctor from Berdichev, Joseph Conrad's birthplace, 120 miles
west of Kiev, said: "This country has no prospects, it is bankrupt.
EU aid merely scratches the surface. My children have no prospects;
they'll have to leave."
The Anglican and Lutheran help and hospitality during the
protests, however, has had a positive impact on inter-Church
relations. The leading Orthodox think tank and publishing house
Duh i Litera ("Spirit and Word") wants to know more about
the Lutheran and Anglican Churches' life, inspired by the way in
which congregations have engaged actively with society in its
struggles. "Ecumenism has arrived in Kiev," its chief editor,
Professor Konstantin Sigov, says.
Tension remains extremely high, however. Foreign Office travel
advice states: "Protests and demonstrations are occurring in
central Kiev . . . where clashes have resulted in fatalities with
reports of live ammunition being fired."
Groups of people have set up small barricaded areas around
Independence Square, and still sit there in silent protest.
Blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags fly from balconies. Part of the
main street is barricaded halfway down from Independence
So far, my black Ukrainian flat cap, a ubiquitous piece of
headgear among poor farmers and working men of a certain age, may
have saved me from unwelcome attention.
Although Foreign Office advice was not to go to the eastern
towns on the border with Russia, I visited elderly friends there,
in Chernigov, 85 miles north of Kiev, close to Chernobyl. The town
was quiet: here, too, people are anxious, and struggle to
My friends subsist entirely on the sugar beets, potatoes, red
peppers, and other vegetables that they grow on their allotment.
They seem not to operate a money economy, and struggle to find the
bus fare (15p) for the 20-minute journey out of town.
Fighting continues in Donetsk - the home of the ousted President
Yanukovych - in Luhansk, and in Kharkov, originally the capital of
Soviet Ukraine, although reports say that, while the authorities
retook the public building there, local committees still have
control of public buildings in Luhansk and Donetsk. In Donetsk,
they proclaimed their own republic, asking for admission to the
As I write, chill settles around me. With low cloud and an
outside temperature of about four degrees, there is a wintry feel
to the air. The City Council, however, has decided that spring is
here, and has turned off all the heating.
If President Putin's threats to Ukraine to cut its gas supply to
become reality, it is much to be feared that there is worse cold to
come. Nevertheless, the small congregation of Christ Church will
struggle to maintain their weekly morning prayer with a eucharist,
whenever they can attract a visiting priest.
The Revd Stuart Robertson is Acting Anglican Chaplain in