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Pope Will Also Find Ukrainians in Kazakhstan
Pope John Paul II is planning to make a pastoral visit to Kazakhstan from 22 to 25 September 2001. As he travels to yet another country of the former Soviet Union he will find a sizable Ukrainian community there. As colonists or exiles, Ukrainians have been in the Central Asian republic for over a century.
01.08.2001 (02:56) // Religious Information Service of Ukraine
Professor Vasyl Markus, editor of the “Encyclopedia of the Ukrainian Diaspora,” reports that there are about 800,000 Ukrainians in Kazakhstan. Groups from Ukraine have been there since the 19th century. The most recent wave of immigration occurred in the 1950s and ‘60s under Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who wanted them to cultivate the virgin lands. Most of the Ukrainians are in the northern part of the republic.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), according to Markus, has had a presence there at least since the middle of the twentieth century. After World War Two a UGCC bishop sent into exile served Polish and German Roman Catholic faithful there. And a few exiled Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests ministered in relative secrecy to the Ukrainians there.
The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church currently has a bishop designated as Apostolic Visitator for Kazakhstan and Central Asia and Ukrainian priests have formed new parishes since independence in 1991.
Professor Myroslav Marynovych, former dissident and currently director of Lviv’s Institute of Religion and Society, was exiled to Kazakhstan in Soviet times. He recalls his trip there: “My mother told me there was a Ukrainian-speaking village on the way to the place of my exile. Some people stood in a shop communicating in Ukrainian. It was a true shock for my mother” that there was a Ukrainian-speaking community in Central Asia.
The life of one forced into exile, however, often lacks the comfort of contact with one’s countrymen. Marynovych notes “I spent three years among an exclusively Kazakh population. I was the only Slav (to say nothing of Ukrainians) in the village. The KGB was afraid of placing me among Ukrainians.”
Yet he did not regret this: “But I seemed to benefit. Kazakhs were very close to Nature—and very far from politics. It was easier to enter into normal human relations with the Kazakhs, who were not as intimidated as the Ukrainians were.”