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Bringing the story of Babyn Yar back to life

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In 1961, sixteen years after the end of World War Two, Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtuschenko wrote his haunting work Babyn Yar, which mournfully and famously opens with the line: “No monument stands over Babyn Yar.” Indeed, a visit to the scenic park which now marks the area of Babyn Yar in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv gives little indication of the horror which unfolded there just over 79 years ago. Just days after the Nazis occupied Kyiv in September 1941, around 34,000 of the city’s Jews were marched to the Babyn Yar ravine and were callously shot dead over a two-day period. It became a seminal moment, ushering in the mass shooting of around 1.5 million Jews in Eastern Europe. Later large-scale killings at the same site saw the Nazis also murder tens of thousands of Ukrainian political opponents, Russian prisoners, Roma, mentally ill and others. Babyn Yar is Europe’s largest mass grave.

Yet until now, the Babyn Yar story has largely gone untold. As the poet Yevtuschenko bravely publicized, decades of Soviet attempts to mask the past, to hide a history which didn’t comply with the prevailing Communist narrative, left Babyn Yar bereft of any meaningful memorial to the multitude of Jewish victims, killed purely because of their Jewishness. Today, the sole reminder is a modest Menorah (Jewish candelabra) monument installed shortly after Ukrainian independence. Things are finally about to change though, with the development of the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center (BYHMC). The project will comprise a world-class Holocaust museum, the first in the region, which is set to utilize innovative technologies to engage and educate a new generation. Although the museum’s doors are unlikely to open until 2026, BYHMC is already very actively perpetuating the memory of the Babyn Yar massacre. Twelve research and education projects are in full swing, giving people the opportunity to discover and learn more.

Meanwhile, BYHMC has also developed powerful physical reminders of the tragedy which unfolded, for all those who visit the site.  In September, on the 79th anniversary of the massacre, in the presence of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, BYHMC unveiled three brand new outdoor memorials at Babyn Yar. Together, the three installations combine powerful audio and visual elements, giving the visitor a multi-sensory and thought-provoking experience.

BYHMC’s artistic director Ilya Khrzanovskiy puts its succinctly, “Hard facts in the form of documentary evidence are just one way to tell a story.” He believes that an emotional experience is critical. “It is this emotive connection that can really make an impact and ensure that historical lessons are learned,” he added.

One of the new installations is the striking Mirror Field, featuring ten six-foot high steel columns. Visual artist Denis Shibanov was responsible for developing the monument. He says that the central idea came to him immediately. Each column is marked with a cascade of bullet holes. In total, the ten columns contain 100,000 bullet holes, representing the individual lives of the 100,000 or so people murdered in total at Babyn Yar. Beyond the numerical significance and the shocking visual effect, Shibanov wants the bullet holes to have a reflective impact on the visitor. “When a person comes close, they can see the reflection of their own face next to a bullet hole – In other words, any of us could be the potential victim.” However, night brings a note of hope, as the columns are illuminated, sending shards of light into the sky.

The top of each column has been exploded and so as visitors gaze upwards, they are confronted with a mess of tangled steel against the backdrop of the sky. Shibanov hopes that the striking contrast evokes a duality of emotions. He said, “Hopefully, there is a mixture of feelings. Horror and hope for the future. Cold. Empty space. The horror of what human beings can do. On the other hand, the sky gives hope.”

The visual impact of the columns is complemented by a powerful audio experience. An organ made of plastic drain pipes has been installed underneath the Mirror Field. "The drainpipe organ" was conceived and designed by Ukrainian multi-media artist Maksym Demydenko. This electro-acoustic organ is comprised of 24 plastic drainage pipes of various diameters and lengths and features internal speakers tuned to different frequencies. Reproducing sound frequencies through this organ, which correspond to the numerical value of victims’ names calculated from Hebrew letters, creates a mixture of resonances and reflections. In Demydenko's words “a miraculous piece of music is constantly emanating in tribute to the memory of the victims of Babyn Yar”.

The second new installation is the collection of Monoculars. The name itself gives some sense of the visual and emotional journey to come. Two types of monoculars have been installed. One version, positioned around the Mirror Field’s perimeter, are a series of red granite structures, each evoking a silhouette. At each monocular, the visitor can read biographical details of a Babyn Yar victim and piece together the life that was lost. As Shibanov explains, these monoculars are intended to encourage empathy with the victims. “The silhouettes created by these monoculars are shaped like a target on a firing range. In other words, when the visitor confronts them, not only do they learn about the victims, but they ponder how each and every one of us is a potential target.” Ultimately, says Shibanov, “There is a life behind each silhouette. Visitors can ask themselves, what school did they attend? What did their house look like?”

The second version of the monocular is a similarly undefined shape, made from rough red granite. Each of these 15 statues is positioned at the exact point where Nazi military photographer Johannes Hahle took 15 photographs of Babyn Yar in October 1941. Through a viewfinder embedded in each statue, visitors can see the photograph as recorded by Hahle. The monocular becomes a window into the past through the eyes of those responsible for its horrors.

The final new memorial is the Menorah Monument Audio Walk. 32 specially installed pillars line the 300-meter path from the main road towards Babyn Yar’s existing Menorah monument. The audio walk takes the visitor on an experiential journey. Emanating from each pillar are voices, young and old, men and women, reading the names of the 19,000 victims of the Babyn Yar massacre who have been identified so far. Each speaker operates from an independent audio channel. As a result, the direction and speed of each visitor as they walk, creates a unique audio experience. Demydenko came up with the concept, saying he wanted “to find a way to read the names of the innocent victims” in the midst of Babyn Yar’s expanse.

Demydenko added another audio element as visitors get closer to the Menorah. The names of the dead are joined by the traditional Jewish prayer for the souls of the departed. At the culmination of the walk, another Jewish song is introduced, a 1920s recording sung by a Kyiv-trained cantor. It is a reminder of the vibrant Jewish world that was so tragically obliterated.

The three new installations are a key part of BYHMC’s commitment towards providing a multi-dimensional experience to learn history. By engaging multiple senses, they ensure that the horror of Babyn Yar can resonate and speak to people for generations to come. The Museum promises to continue this process, combining research with technology and ultimately playing an important role as the world grapples to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. As the survivors of humanity’s darkest hour continue to dwindle, it will serve as a timely and thought-provoking memorial to one of the Holocaust’s most shocking episodes. In the words of Denis Shibanov: “I want people to understand that every person is a world and every killing was the destruction of an entire world.” In this spirit, the three new monuments represent a significant step towards finally answering the poet Yevtuschenko’s lament more than half a century ago, that a memorial should indeed stand at Babyn Yar.

coronavirus

Europe should not be divided by colour of 'vaccination passports' and vaccine brand

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During the pandemic, not only the lives of ordinary people but also the practices of business, government and international institutions have changed dramatically. The world is learning how to live in a new reality but what it is like and what is in store for us? EU Reporter spoke about this with Ukraine lawyer and academic Kostiantyn Kryvopust, a member of the International Association of Lawyers (UIA, France). Kryvopust has extensive experience working in Ukraine and the former Soviet Union, is an advocate of European integration and closely follows trends in international law, writes Martin Banks.  

EU Reporter

What do you think of the coronavirus problem and when do you think the pandemic will end or at least subside, including in Ukraine?

Kryvopust: Globally, there has been an important shift in perceptions of the pandemic - the existence of the coronavirus and its dangers are no longer denied, even by the most exotic of political regimes. Now, in addition to vaccine competition, effective management solutions and quarantine practices are being developed, which will then be harmonised and formalised into new regulations.

European countries are now forced to find a new balance between democracy and security, the interests of state and citizen, transparency and control. This is something from which public philosophers, politicians and lawmakers have tried for years to escape, but it will no longer be possible to ignore the issue. The epidemic will end when all threats are understood, new norms are formulated and everyone starts to adhere to them.

In your opinion, why do quarantine measures in various countries increasingly face civil protests?

If we analyze the reasons for discontent, it is clear that people are angered by the illogic and unfairness of the decisions, rather than by the quarantine policy itself. Vaccination privileges, discrimination against certain groups, economic insecurity for businesses and employees, non-transparent spending of public funds, fears of abuse of the state of emergency, distortion of public information, strengthening of the police functions of the state, and restrictions on organized protest activity are all issues that need to be resolved as soon as possible.

We do not want the once single European social space to become segmented in terms of the brand of vaccine used, health insurance policy or colour of the vaccination passport.

Don't you think that the legal enforcement of policy is lagging far behind the practical actions of the authorities? If so, why does this happen?

For an emergency, this is normal. But the temporary should not become permanent. It is alarming that this is the second lockdown since spring 2020, but so far there has been no serious attempt to comprehend all this systematically and to formulate it into new norms of constitutional, civil, economic and criminal law.

In addition, there are many purely national inconsistencies. Ukraine has a Chief Public Health Officer but no subordinate service and no hierarchy. This is because shortly before the pandemic, the service in question was abolished due to complaints of corruption. There are dozens of times more infected, but the current January lockdown is noticeably milder than the previous one. Public transport is working, there are no restrictions on movement etc. There is a desire on the part of the government to help businesses and people, but this is still political charity rather than a clear mechanism.

Is it possible that quarantine restrictions will develop into some new form of political control? 

I do not see any systematic attempts to build something of this kind, but there are individual, very controversial initiatives. For example: there is a decision in one country to set up a separate prison for quarantine violators and covid-nihilists and draft laws that give the government broad powers to interfere in the private lives of citizens.There are plans by individual local authorities to use temperature scanners in public places and restrict the movement of suspicious persons; ideas to introduce so-called "covid-passports" are seriously discussed. One can find information about forcing people to get vaccinated in some undemocratic countries.

The main method of work of the health control authorities is to carry out sanitary and epidemiological investigations, in which the mode of spread of the infection, its possible sources and carriers are clarified. It is not difficult to predict what such technology-based activities can lead to if they are not clearly regulated and placed under public scrutiny.

In your opinion, as a lawyer, what new legal provisions might emerge as a result of the current epidemic?

Perhaps, these are regulations concerning the right of citizens to access means of personal protection and vaccination. Perhaps additional guarantees of universal access to the Internet, since the Internet is becoming a basic technology for learning, leisure, work and services.

I think that in the very near future lawyers and politicians will have to find answers to questions about the legitimacy of remote screening technologies, the use of data from mobile phone operators and user information from social networks for sanitary and epidemiological investigations, corporate responsibilities during pandemics, measures against COVID-19 deniers and so on. Everything like these should be formalized to avoid legal arbitrariness.The European legal tradition would be consistent with an approach in which legal regulations would be new rights, not just obligations.

How do you think the economy will recover after the pandemic?

Two general scenarios are possible here. The first one is a return to the framework of the old model after mass vaccination and compliance with new precautions. The second one is a transition to a new quality, where the main characteristics will be: remote working, automation, limited social interaction, short production chains, and the winding down of many traditional business sectors.

I think the most realistic scenario would be an intermediate scenario, but that does not take away the responsibility to solve the contradictions that arise. Europe will have to work out new regulations not only for cryptocurrencies, but also for labour protection and taxation of self-employment, outsourcing regulation, public information, electoral procedures and much more. Medical reform is a separate issue and dramatic changes await medicine regardless of what the global scenarios are.

During the pandemic, the cultural sector, the travel and hospitality industry, logistics and transport, sport and recreation suffered large losses. In order to rebuild and adapt these activities to the new conditions, not only additional incentives will be needed, but also financial support.

How are the policies of global financial institutions changing and how do you assess such changes?

In response to the pandemic, international financial institutions have been forced to hastily change the rules of the game, simplifying many mechanisms and adapting them to the situation. To date, many traditional donor governments and international organisations have taken a range of proactive measures to support developing and most needy states. In particular, the IMCF has announced more than $100 billion in emergency loans and stands ready to raise an additional $1 trillion. During the crisis, the IMCF received emergency requests from more than 100 countries. Also, the World Bank group plans to provide $150 billion in financial assistance to nations in need over the next 15 months. The fact that the world's financial donors have not curtailed their funding programmes, but have instead maintained and decided to increase aid is an encouraging fact.

The G20 members have made major concessions and frozen debt repayments for 76 International Development Association (IDA) recipient countries. Financial analysts estimate that such a measure would help developing countries defer payments totalling $16.5 billion.

The EU, for its part, has approved an $878.5 billion package of measures to help the European countries most affected by the infection. We would like to see these funds go not only to the EU leading countries, but also to countries that are in the process of European integration, including Ukraine.

The post-war reconstruction of Europe has created a unique moral climate and a sense of unity among European countries. It would be good if the response to the current epidemic was also such a stimulus for political and civic unity and a stronger feeling of security and safety.

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Ukraine should prove to be an agricultural superpower in a post-COVID world

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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world drastically. On the one hand, the immediate targets of reducing the sky-rocketing rates of infection, increasing the capacity of intensive care and vaccination programmes require the urgent attention of all nations. On the other hand, state leaders  must also review their supply policies, in particular global delivery chains to keep essential goods and services flowing, writes Vadym Ivchenko.

Worldwide Food Insecurity

People have been always in  need of food and basic resources to survive even before  the spread of this pandemic. Last April, the United Nations projected that the number of people facing severe food insecurity worldwide could double to 265 million due to the impact of COVID-19. We are now faced with the herculean task of rescuing as many of them as humanly possible from starvation.

Agriculture’s silver lining

If there is a silver lining in this unfolding crisis, it is that agriculture has proved to be more resilient to the impact of COVID-19 than manufacturing industry. While it is true that there have still been significant slowdowns, particularly in situations where outbreaks were discovered, the agriculture sector has never been forced to fully shut down. Irrespective of a global pandemic, people still need to eat, leaving the market demand for agricultural products virtually unchanged. The main factor brought into focus by the pandemic has been the issue of food safety.

Ukraine Can Help

My firm stance is that Ukraine has every chance to play a central role in the forthcoming effort of obtaining  global food security in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. My country has often been referred to as the breadbasket of Central Europe, and with global food insecurity set to increase dramatically, coupled with Ukraine's large agricultural yields, it can soon become a breadbasket for the whole world. In a nutshell, Ukraine is an agricultural goldmine. Already Ukrainian farmers feed the world, supplying food products to 205 countries. The country is home to around 25% of the world's black earth soil, renowned for its high level of fertility. Although it does not yet have the same level of crop yields as countries with modern agricultural production, Ukraine already has the potential to feed more than 600 million people. To put this into perspective, Ukraine only needs one-fifteenth of its current production to feed its domestic population, leaving the rest available for export.

Ukraine ranks as the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil, second in nuts, third in honey, barley, and rapeseed, fourth in corn, fifth in wheat, seventh in soy, eighth in chicken, tenth in chicken eggs, and eleventh in flour. Agricultural products are the primary basis of Ukraine's foreign trade. Agricultural products and foodstuffs represent about 40% of the nation’s overall exports value, a valuable share of foreign currency revenues for the country.

Global partnerships have an important part to play

One thing that’s clear is that leading companies around the world are starting to take notice. Large multinationals, such as John Deere, Syngenta, NCH Capital, NCH Agroprosperis, Monsanto Company, and Cargill have all started actively working and developing their production in Ukraine.

As a member of the Agriculture Committee of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) I have worked with Cargill on the development of important agricultural projects. I and have personal vision and  experience of how major agricultural corporations can support the country in difficult times. Last year, for example, Cargill Financial Services International provided Ukraine a state loan of € 250 million.

Ukraine is already making strides in increasing its trade potential. The volume of trade between Ukraine and the EU has increased significantly over the last five years. Likewise, between Ukraine and the US, the figure has exceeded $5 billion per year, with poultry, sunflower oil, flour, alcohol, fruits, and vegetables being just some of the exported goods. Ukraine is capable of providing a much wider range of products, but is held back by trade barriers,  which hopefully will be scaled back shortly. The key factor for us is to become serious as a society in tackling global food insecurity.

The need for progressive technology

To update the country’s agricultural infrastructure and increase crop yields, about 15% of companies have begun actively implementing agricultural innovations by purchasing the solutions of both foreign and domestic technology startup companies. Many also develop their own in-house solutions, and according to the AgTech Ukraine Association, the number of agricultural startups in Ukraine has risen to more than 80.

All of these advancements come just in time to tackle the largest threat currently facing humanity, greater even than the COVID-19 pandemic, potentially irreversible climate change. By 2050, in just 30 short years, the world's population is projected to grow so much that it will require 70% more food to sustain it. This population explosion is aggravated by environmental changes to agriculture, as the amount of agricultural land is annually decreasing. Soil contamination with heavy metals, radioactive waste, and pesticides threaten biodiversity, reduce food quality, and have negative impacts on human health.

According to the UN, the world exhausted its yearly limit on the consumption of renewable natural resources in August 2020, meaning that the supply of natural resources for the next 4-5 months will come at the expense of future years and, beyond that, of subsequent generations. However, through agriculture, we may still be able to provide an effective solution. In situations where there is no available pathway in switching to renewable energy, the production and consumption of biofuels can serve as a life-saving stop-gap.

To achieve this solution, especially considering that the production of bioethanol in the country is actively slowing down (progress is more noticeable with biogas), Ukraine needs to reform its current system of economic incentives and start to prioritise the development of biofuels. If only around 20% of the country’s corn can be repurposed for domestic processing, rather than export, Ukraine will be able to actively improve its environmental conditions.

Unfortunately, for all of their bluster, the state’s current agricultural development programs are declarative, but lack the necessary specifics, making the creation of a large scale bioethanol market difficult.

Ukraine as theworld’s breadbasket"

Citing  the famous 19th-century Ukrainian scientist, Serhiy Podolynsky, “Of the many types of human activity, agriculture is of the highest priority, the most productive and useful work, which dozens of times increases the product made by nature”.  I do agree with Serhiy’s ideas which are very relevant to our times; agriculture is indeed essential in providing humanity with food, medicine, renewable energy, clothing, and other much-needed resources.

Ukraine has long been a regional breadbasket, but must seize its chance now and make strides in becoming a breadbasket for the whole world. While the country has already made significant contributions to overcoming world hunger, by incorporating global technologies into production and integrating itself into international supply chains, Ukraine can become a reliable agricultural trading partner to any country in need.

The Author, Vadym Ivchenko, is a Member of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (Ukrainian Parliament), elected in 2014.

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Politicians’ hypocrisy: How rights of Ecumenical Patriarchate are infringed in Ukraine

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In Ukraine, on 12 December 2020, after 11 years of restoration, St. Andrew's Church was opened. The architectural monument was transferred to the Mission of Stauropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Ukraine after a co-operation agreement was signed by Patriarch Bartholomew and Petro Poroshenko on November 2, 2018, writes Andriy Pochtar, member of the Ukrainian Orthodox community, Dusseldorf, Germany.

The official opening ceremony was held online on 12 December. The Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine Alexander Tkachenko and Ukraine President Vladimir Zelensky appreciated the restoration work and recovery of the historical appearance of the 18th century monument of architecture and painting.

The church was opened to visitors on 15 December - the second anniversary of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine’s establishment. However, on 13 December – the day of St. Andrew the First-Called according to the Julian calendar, which is still adhered to by the majority of Orthodox Ukrainians, – the first liturgy in St. Andrew's Church was led by the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Metropolitan Emmanuel (Adamakis) of France, who expressly came to the celebrations.

Until the restoration work was completed, services were mostly held in the stylobate, the lower part of the church, not often, however, because of the pandemic.

In the future, services should be held on weekends and holidays, and on other days the historical church will function as a museum. This was announced after the December 13 liturgy by the head of the Stauropegion and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Kyiv, Bishop Mikhail (Anishchenko) of Koman.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited completion of restoration works will not change so much in the functioning of the stauropegion as it is expected, because many issues related to the transfer of St. Andrew's Church to the Mission of the Ecumenical Patriarchate have not yet been resolved. And the celebrations in honor of the opening of the historic church for visitors highlighted issues in the relationship between the religious organization and the Ukrainian authorities.

First, none of the officials of Ukraine considered it necessary to hold a meeting with the hierarch of the Mother Church, who came to the celebrations in Ukraine on behalf of Patriarch Bartholomew, and also played a major role in the creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.

Secondly, believers were allowed to the December 13 service only according to the lists, and many people failed to attend it.

Third, the entrance to St. Andrew's Church is possible only for a fee. Although it is very small, it still takes a bite out of the poorest Ukrainians’ wallets. And, of course, this money is not collected by the Stauropegion.

Finally, most outrageous of all, Bishop Mikhail (Anishchenko) of Koman, the head of Stauropegion and Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch in Kyiv, must always obtain permission from Ukrainian officials to hold divine services. Even on the Patron Saint’s Day of the Stauropegion! And it is up to Nelya Kukovalska – the General Director of the National Sanctuary "Sophia of Kyiv", which includes St. Andrew's Church – to provide her resolution on the possibility of holding services.

How come the head of the organization, which the temple was transferred to, cannot on his own determine on which weekends he can serve and on which weekends he can not? And this is despite the fact that according to a decree of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, not only the stylobate, but the entire St. Andrew's Church was transferred to the Stauropegion.

For comparison, when an architectural monument of national significance in Kyiv is shared between a cultural institution and a Catholic religious organization, everything is exactly the opposite. This year, after the February visit of President Zelensky to Pope Francis, the Ukrainian government ordered to transfer the building of the Church of St. Nicholas in Kyiv, which also houses the National House of Organ and Chamber Music of Ukraine, for free use to the community of the Roman Catholic Church. According to the Ministry of Culture, until the new building for the House of Music is built, "the rehearsal process and concert activities will be carried out according to the schedule." That is, the rest of the time the church can be used by the religious community. Moreover, even when the temple was not yet handed over to the church, it was open for prayer all Sunday and all the faithful could come to the service.

The building of St. Andrew's Church, two years after its transfer to the free use of the Stauropegion of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, in fact, cannot be freely used for its intended purpose, although the head of the religious organization accepted all the memorial protection obligations as early as April 26, 2019, when he signed a contract with the National Sanctuary "Sophia of Kyiv".

It turns out that St. Andrew's Church was transferred to the Mission of the Ecumenical Patriarchate only on paper, and in fact, the head of this church is not Bishop Mikhail, but Mrs. Kukovalska, and only with her one-time permission divine services can be held. The Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch can serve in the basement, if no museum events are held there – and he should be grateful to the Ukrainian authorities for this.

How many loud words are spoken – both by officials and hierarchs - about gratitude to Patriarch Bartholomew, support of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, about how Ukraine appreciates its ties with the Mother Church... But in fact, all these words are worthless. There is fraud after fraud – with Filaret’s (Denysenko) withdrawal of his own candidacy for the post of Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, and with the transfer of Ukrainian parishes in the diaspora to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and in terms of transferring the building and promoting the activities of the stauropegion. They simply pool the wool over the eyes of His All-Holiness and high-ranking hierarchs who represent him – no better than the Russians.

In general, unfortunately, the oppression of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is no longer something surprising: it is happening both on behalf of Turkey and on behalf of some churches, in which ethnophyletism is dominating. However, it remains unclear why for so long Patriarch Bartholomew tolerates all this – constant distrust, discrimination, violations of promises and blatant lies.

Did the departure of Archbishop Elpidophoros overseas have such a detrimental effect, and there are no people left by Patriarch Bartholomew who could advise, protect from another deception, help defend the legitimate rights of the Mother Church’s Primate?

In the end, the stauropegion in Kyiv is no fee, no reciprocal gesture of Ukraine for the gracious gift of autocephaly. Historically, the Archbishop of Constantinople-New Rome had not a single, but many stauropegions in Ukraine. Not one, but all of them belonged to the Ecumenical Patriarch by right! And, in theory, they should belong now.

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