Monday, July 06, 2015

Lutheran Pastor Ralf Haska Leaves Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- He opened the doors of his Kiev church to injured Maidan protestors and supported his flock through Ukraine's tumultuous revolution.

Now, after six years there, German pastor Ralf Haska is leaving.

"This image of you will stay with us," a well-wisher said during one of the many farewell parties held for Ralf Haska in recent weeks.

The picture taken in December 2013 shows the German clergyman with outstretched arms, wearing the robe of the Protestant regional church of Berlin-Brandenburg, from where he hails.

Behind him stand the Ukrainian interior ministry's police force, Berkut, wielding truncheons and other weapons.

In front of him, more and more Maidan demonstrators surge up Lutheranska Street to the Church of St. Catherine, situated close to the President's Palace – home of the then-President Viktor Yanukovych until he was removed from power two months later.

In the scene captured in that photo, the demonstrators were angry and there was a looming threat that violence would escalate.

The pastor who was born in the former East Germany once recalled shouting to them:

"We have a revolution behind us and we remained peaceful then."

These days, the 48-year-old is not sure exactly what he said, because tensions were running so high back then.

Student of a peaceful revolution Ralf Haska was studying Protestant theology in Berlin, then the capital of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), when in the autumn of 1989, police besieged all of the streets in the center of Berlin leading to the Palast der Republik (Palace of the Republic), the seat of East German parliament.

Many demonstrators from the Protestant Church who backed the opposition on the 40-year anniversary of the GDR were arrested by the East German secret police (Staatssicherheitsdienst, also known as the Stasi).

People all over the world saw images of the protests which stretched in East Berlin's center all the way to the Gethsemane Church in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg, where opponents of the regime often met.

Decades later, in late 2013, Haska opened the doors of St. Catherine church in Kiev to those caught up in the clashes which took place in the city's Independence Square, also known as Maidan.

Within a few days a sick bay was set up, where volunteers took care of the injured.

People knelt down in front of the altar and prayed.

Ralf Haska, his wife and their three children were suddenly in the midst of revolutionary upheaval in Ukraine.

From Yushchenko to Poroshenko The Protestant Church of Germany (EKD) posted Haska to Kiev in 2009.

At that time the leaders of the Orange Revolution had been ruling since 2004 - the duo of Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko.

"You could sense the dissatisfaction even then," said Haska.

Afterwards, the autocratic Viktor Yanukovych was voted into office.

His rejection of an association agreement with the European Union paved the way to the Maidan protests.

Afterwards, Crimea was annexed, the war against pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine began and President Petro Poroshenko's pro-EU government came into power.

Haska has been following these developments every step of the way.

After serving as a Maidan hospital, the Church of St Catherine has to this day continued to provide never-ending relief for the needy and soldiers on the front.

Volunteers from the congregation find hospital beds in Germany for the injured.

Aid funds are used to buy medication, but especially to support children's homes in eastern Ukraine.

At the end of June, Haska travelled to the front line one more time.

"It will probably be the last time for a long while," he said.

The support continues 

The German clergyman said he would continue to help the country in the future.

The pastor's family now has to find a new home in the Oberfranken region of Bavaria, Germany.

Haska is working for a parish not far away from another Ukraine returnee.

The two parishes intend to draw attention to Ukraine's plight.

As Pastor Haska departs, a rift has grown in the German Protestant Church of Ukraine between the famous Church of St. Catherine in Kiev and church leaders at the bishop's seat in Odessa because of "inner-church problems," Haska said, without going into great detail.

It seems that revolution, war and the severe economic crisis are not letting Ukraine come to calm for the time being - a calm the 300 members of the St. Catherine congregation long for.

Haska's parting will not make things easier.

Actually, he would have like to have extended his stay.

"I am letting you go with great reluctance," said a well-wisher at a farewell event in June.

The good news is that not only the picture, the icon remains, but also the hope in the hearts of Ukrainians who have met Haska.

On Sunday, the Evangelical pastor was due to preach for the last time on Lutheranska Street in Kiev.

His parting words, which he chose ahead of time: "I only have one wish - that ultimately, peace prevails."

Source: Deutsche Welle

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