Greetings once again from Kiev, where the violence of late last week has now passed, and a new era is dawning across Ukraine. Thanks be to God, it now seems that Ukraine has stepped back from the brink of civil war, and there is genuine hope for the future of the country.
Last Friday, after two days of street battles between anti-government protesters and riot police that left up to 100 people dead and more than 1,000 injured, the violence finally came to an end. Over the weekend, President Victor Yanukovich fled Kiev and went into hiding.
Members of parliament from the president's party abandoned the president and pledged their support for the new government being formed by the opposition.
The jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison. The police, military, and regional governors have committed to accept the new government now in formation, and to abide by the constitution and rule of law.
Saturday and Sunday were observed as national days of mourning for those who died in the fighting. Prayer services were held in United Methodist churches and other religious communities across the country. Here in Kiev, our two UMC congregations gathered on Saturday and Sunday to pray for the casualties of the conflict, for the political leaders now assuming power, and for the nation as a whole.
In between these worship services, on Sunday my family and I joined tens of thousands of Ukrainians on Independence Square, to pay our respect to the dead and to show our support for the new Ukraine now emerging from the ashes.
And indeed, the ashes of central Kiev are widespread. Vast areas of the city center have been blackened by soot, and are still defended by makeshift barricades and patrolled by self-defense brigades comprising thousands of ordinary citizens.
The mood on the square was somber, yet hopeful. The sacrifices made by those demonstrating for freedom and honest government during these dark days will be remembered for generations to come.
So today, Monday, marks a new day in the history of Ukraine. After months of political unrest, and a week of terrible violence and great fear, today a sense of some normalcy has settled over the city: the parliament is open for business, schools are in session, people are commuting to work, the subway system has resumed operations, the shelves of shops and bakeries are filling again.
Many of you have prayed in recent days for the people of Ukraine, and for your United Methodist brothers and sisters here in Kiev. On behalf of our two congregations, I thank you for your prayers. And please, keep on praying! Our political leaders need wisdom to build a new government based on democratic norms; our religious leaders need courage to continue proclaiming truth and love and hope; ordinary families need encouragement to keep working together to build a more just society.
Thank you for your support, and may God's peace be with us all this new day.
The Rev. John Calhoun is a United Methodist mission worker serving churches in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. He was formerly pastor of the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy, the English-speaking Protestant congregation in Moscow that is co-sponsored by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). PNS thanks Gary Payton, former area liaison for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland, for forwarding this story.