Grigory Ohanov: "Violence and power are their main values".

Grigori Ohanov is the former chairman of the Kerigma Association of Orthodox Youth Communities of St. Petersburg. He remains in Russia and does not stop talking about humanity and mercy. People dissatisfied with the course of the "special operation" try to make him a "substitute victim" and urge to write denunciations on him. But Grigory is not offended, because eight years ago he considered himself a Putinist. He is sure that it is necessary to continue supporting and uniting those who do not accept violence. Grigory Ohanov spoke about the Orthodox Church's attitude to war, Satanists and traditional values in the Witnesses project.

The main traditional values they are interested in are violence and power. And money. Everything is based on lies. Well, it's probably a war against Satanists, only clearly Satanists are on the wrong side, this side. What Russia is doing now is going against Christ. The war against certain Western values is a war against Christ, because Western values are based on the Gospel.

Tell us about yourself

— I am a sidesman of the Russian Orthodox Church. I work in a parish, and I have been involved in youth work for many years. I was head of the largest Orthodox youth organisation in St. Petersburg for about three years, but I left in October because of a series of events.

Your first thoughts and feelings on February 24?

— I didn't believe it would happen that way. But at the same time, as we discussed in the family that a war might break out, I woke up every morning and doomscrolled, I checked social media, I checked Meduza. There was a moment in February when the independence of the two republics was recognised. I thought that that was it, we could relax, we got away with little blood. But then, all the same, on the 24th I opened the "Medusa" and there was written: "War". And that, of course, was such a shock for me! I only experienced a shock like that when I learned about the death of my close relatives. I was shaking all over, and it seemed to me that missiles were about to fly out the window, and that the whole world was falling apart.

The youth activists in our organisation and I got together at the end of February and we just started talking about what was going on. I know that in some organisations it is not customary to discuss this, at least in the church, in some parishes. Because it is thought that if we discuss it there will be a conflict and everyone will quarrel and leave. But, our experience has shown that on the contrary, there will still be conflict, but it is important to meet with people with different views and discuss how they feel, how they perceive the events. And so we discussed this then, and we agreed that we have different opinions, some "for" and some "against," but we are together. We are united by something deeper, higher, and we can continue together to do what we've been doing. And we even had a dove of peace as our emblem at the spring event, and it got through, even though we held it on a government platform. There were no complaints, because the dove of peace is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. And, of course, it's very good for us churchmen, because we have a lot of right words in the Gospel about mercy, about humanity, about nonviolence, and we can quote them and write them everywhere. And if you don't bring this placard to the Gostiny Dvor, where we periodically hold pickets against the war, then in principle it works. And it worked for us before the mobilisation started.

What has changed since September 21?

— On September 21 it became clear that it was impossible to continue the way things were going before. The only thing I can say from the position of the head of an NGO is that you can't kill people, you can't take part in this, you can't support it, you can't collect money for all this. Many of our activists, from my youth group, 80 percent of the active guys have left now, in September, in October. I'm very glad they ended up in a safe place. I realised I can't do it anymore. I have to keep being with people, supporting them, helping them find contacts in the countries they're going to move to. But, I can't keep doing this kind of youth activism, outreach activities, because you have to talk about one thing — you have to talk about how you can't kill people. And holding events with that theme, it's impossible now.
I started writing about it on social media, and, understandably, it caused a big resonance. Because, people who support the operation, they're not satisfied with what's going on now. They need to find a vicarious victim. So I, in part, became that victim. Many people began to write: "Look, this man corrupts young people, he promotes values of pacifism and humanity that are foreign to us. Not so, of course, but in the spirit that I spread not patriotic position, and it is necessary to get rid of me, to write denunciations, the more denunciations will be, the better. And some priests joined in. Sad story, of course, but I am not offended, because I understand that they are going through the tough time.
Eight years ago I was a staunch Putinist. I believed that Putin was such a democrat of Petersburg, a disciple of Sobchak, that he was someone who could be trusted. I welcomed the annexation of Crimea then, because I believed that the Crimeans had expressed their consent to be in Russia and in the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, they were such fighters for independence. They want to leave Ukraine, enter another state, why not. But, then I began to closely follow the events that were taking place, the violence that was unfolding there out of nothing, I realised that something was not right here. And then I rethought my position, and began to hold oppositional views.

Everything is based on lies. I, as an Orthodox Christian, could not accept this. For a long time I thought that our government was adequate, real, honest, Christian, and could not lie. It just did not fit in my head how it is possible to rig elections. How you can say one thing today and another tomorrow.

In the fourteenth year I realised this, and my views have changed greatly. The main traditional values they are interested in are violence and power. And money. Very traditional values. The rest is all a cover-up. I realised that I cannot keep silent, but I cannot talk about my position either, because this way I expose those people who are with me, and my organisation, quite a large one, to a blow. Why is it necessary?

I have decided to resign as chairman of the association.

How did your friends and relatives react to the outbreak of war?

— My wife and I share the same position, but it's more difficult with her family, her parents, because they are budgetary workers, they support the government. They are so used to it. And one of my close relatives left on mobilisation. Of course I am very worried for him, because he may die, because, he may become a murderer. I can't imagine how I'm going to talk to my children afterwards about that, and that their grandparents supported that. It's hard. I'm afraid that our family is cracking at the seams a little bit, in that respect. Not our relationship with my wife, because, as I said, we're on the same page, but my relationship with the parents.

Have you tried to change the minds of those around you?

— I was rather trying to change people's attitudes toward what was going on even before all these events. We promoted mercy, humanity, truth, and so on. At the same time, people learned how to think critically. I think that really a lot of people, thanks to what we did together with my colleagues, they take a more adequate position than they would have if they had not come to us.

According to your observations, how does society react to what is happening?

— There was more tension and there was more involvement. This story became personal. If before, in the last six months, it seemed that everything was happening somewhere far away and did not concern you, that this was a special operation where contractors — professionals — were working, now, although it has not become a national war, but it is something that concerns everyone directly.

How did the Orthodox community respond to the war?

— The Orthodox community has reacted in different ways. It is very scary to me to see how the patriarch and many priests in Russia support what is happening. They literally bless the soldiers to kill, they collect so-called humanitarian aid. In fact, it's just uniforms for those who went to fight in Ukraine. It's disgusting. But, there are so many decent people who don't support it. Some of them speak out, some of them just silently watch what's going on. But at least they don't participate in it. And that's a very decent position.

How does the Orthodox faith relate to war, is it acceptable for a believer to go to war?

— There is no unified Orthodox position here. But we have in the Russian Orthodox Church the basics of the social concept, and in principle the mainstream is that it is possible to fight, but it should be a just defensive war. Of course, the Russian authorities are trying to pass off what is happening as a defensive war. But this looks very strange, because how can they wage a defensive war on somebody else's territory if the order to attack, one way or another, comes from you, and in general there is no evidence that Russia was actually being prepared to be attacked. This is absurd. For Ukraine, it's a defensive war, I believe, and it's a just war. For Russia it is not.

How do you feel about the statements of prominent clergymen that this is a war against Western values and Satanism?

— This may be a war against Satanists, only clearly Satanists are on the other  side. A disgusting statement, and the church will have to repent for it for sure. I think it will be 50 years from now, I hope.

There are no Western values, there are Christian values, which in the West are realised, expressed in human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and so on. Russia is a part of this European, Christian civilisation. A war against such Western values is a war against Christ, because Western values are based on the Gospel. What Russia is doing now is going against Christ.

Why didn't you leave Russia?

— Personal reason. My grandmother is in a serious condition, lying ill. Although she is now in a boarding house, it's still hard to leave her, because she is my closest relative, as it happens. But I'm still thinking about leaving, because, as I said, there are very few opportunities in Russia now to do what I used to do. It is social activity, educational, cultural, church, after all. It's hard to do anything other than just pray. So perhaps I will leave after all. In any case, I will leave if I realise that I am facing some kind of time here.

What are you most afraid of?

— I'm afraid that nothing will change, that everything will remain the same. The war will go on for ten years. I am afraid that Russia will not repent of it, like Nazi Germany did. There has been no repentance in Russia for the terror, for the red terror, for the great terror of the thirties. I am afraid that there will also be no repentance in regard to these events.

What will happen to Russia and Ukraine?

— I think Ukraine will be fine. I hope so, I wish it for them. The only thing, of course, that the main catastrophe of this war is the deaths of people, the injuries, the disabilities. Everything else will recover, the economy, the cities, everything will be built up. With Russia, I don't know what will happen. I hope, of course, that the war will end and there will be transformation, democratisation. But I don't expect it to happen in the near future. I think in 10 years we will have a chance.

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