BUDAPEST/UZHHOROD (BosNewsLife)– Svetlana Milchevich, an evangelical Christian who became a voice of the voiceless with her public fight against abuse of power and corruption by Ukrainian authorities, has died after officials refused to allow her to seek medical treatment in neighboring Hungary. She was 64.
“Svetlana Milchevich, who suffered of stomach cancer, peacefully passed away and is now with the Lord,” said her family in a statement. Milchevich died in a cold, run-down hospital of Ukraine’s western border town of Uzhhorod, where doctors were struggling to find enough pain killers for her and other patients.
Svetlana Milchevich tried to leave Ukraine Thursday, October 29, with her daughter Agnes R. Bos, the co-founder of Christian online news agency BosNewsLife, to seek medical care in Hungary, where hospitals are closer to European Union standards.
But Ukrainian border guards took away Milchevich’s Ukrainian passport citing “a court decision,” although they failed to provide documents. Hungarian officials were monitoring the situation as she had a permanent Hungarian residence permit.
After a tense stand-off that lasted several hours, the weak Milchevich was taken away from the border post by an ambulance, bumping over pothole filled roads, to the nearby Uzhhorod Town Hospital.
Uzhhorod Court Executor Mihaylo Petrovych Grishchuk, who could only be reached the next day, told BosNewsLife that Milchevich would be allowed to leave the country “within perhaps 10 days” after paying about 2,000 euros in local currency for “moral and financial damages.” That is at least 20 times the average monthly wage in Ukraine.
He confirmed that judge Taras Bisaga ordered her to pay compensation to the influential business man Josif Ivanovich Kostich, a close ally of Uzhhorod’s controversial Mayor Sergei Ratushnyak, whose name is also spelled as Serhiy Ratushniak.
“However by that time it became clear that she was very weak and there was not enough time anymore to arrange the funds and get her out of town,” explained Bos, who linked the fine to her mother’s fight against corruption.
She added that her mother also received several death threats from officials including a well-known local judge, Vasily Dmitrevich Andrijtso, the chair of the regional Zakarpatskij Okruzsnoj Administrativ Court. Svetlana Milchevich was also visited by secret service agents, BosNewsLife learned.
As it became clear she would not be able to travel, Bos and her husband, Stefan J. Bos, who came over from Budapest, Hungary, “decided to stay in Uzhhorod and pray with Svetlana at her bed side,” the family said in a statement. Svetlana Milchevich eventually passed away just around 0500 am local time Tuesday, November 3. A funeral service was held Saturday, November 7.
Born in what is now Moldova, in 1945, Milchevich moved to western Ukraine where she became internationally known for leading an unregistered advocacy group of citizens in the border town of Uzhhorod. The group included Christians who lost homes, lands and other properties because of apparently corrupt authorities.
The initiative was launched after Svetlana Milchevich tried to build a small home on land she bought with her life-long earnings as a clothing designer and administrative worker.
Documents obtained by BosNewsLife appear to show that parts of her land were illegally taken by influential business man Kostich, apparently in cooperation with Mayor Ratushnyak. Kostich has denied wrongdoing while Ratushnyak’s office has a tendency not to talk to foreign reporters about controversial issues.
The case underscored international concerns that judges and other officials are involved in corruption, and European Union diplomats have repeatedly called for reforms in Ukraine’s judicial system.
Some corruption cases are being investigated, but Western observers claim not enough is done to tackle the problem by Ukraine’s parliament, which has been deadlocked by political infighting.
Milchevich was just one of many Christian residents suffering under an extensive criminal network, involving former Communist officials and crime groups, that emerged after the collapse of Communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, according to rights groups.
BosNewsLife extensively covered the situation in Uzhhorod, a crucial gateway towards the European Union, in close cooperation with Milchevich.
The Christian woman and supporters were also involved in an open letter to Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko, titled a ‘A Cry For Justice’, urging him to expand the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution of democracy to border areas and reminding him to pledges he made to stamp out corruption.
Backed by BosNewsLife, the ‘Concerned Citizens of Uzhhorod’ wrote that while “we are not rich and famous” and “trail behind the powerful leaders with whom you often meet” the “hard working concerned citizens of Uzhhorod and victims of injustice” had been with him with “prayers and thoughts, supporting your Orange vision to make Ukraine once again a nation of hope and democracy.”
“We believe that God placed you at this position at a crucial time for our nation. We are proud to have you as our president. But, Mr. Yushenko, we ask you, please here our cries. And help us to renew our faith in our nation,” they wrote at the time.
Besides fighting for justice, details also emerged over the weekend that Svetlana Milchevich has long provided aid to a house church that was persecuted under Communism and helped other impoverished citizens.
At an emotionally charged funeral service Saturday, October 7, Stefan J. Bos and Agnes R. Bos, recalled Svetlana Milchevich an “inspiration to many.”
“Svetlana’s dedication to her family, friends, neighbors and those less fortunate was uplifting in challenging times. From making and designing clothes, interior of homes, gardens, paintings, to cooking and cleaning; anything this hard-working “loving, caring, mother, mother-in-law, sister, aunt, friend, neighbor did was done with dedication,” they said in a statement they read in English and Russian.
“And, in recent years, she also became a voice of the voiceless by tackling corruption and abuse of power in this gateway to the European Union,” the couple added.
They stressed that Svetlana’s “sense of justice and love for other people, whether rich or poor” was rooted “in her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
It was “humbling to note,” they told the packed auditorium, that “the Lord choose Svetlana to go ahead of use and the most powerful people in this world to live in eternal glory with Him. Glory that no money can buy.”
They also cited Bible verse John 11:25: “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” That was also reflected in texts accompanying flower wreathes, with one saying: “Real Life never ends.”
Priest Ivan Csepel, of the formerly persecuted Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, told mourners he is convinced Svetlana Milchevich is now with Jesus Christ.
“We know that we will soon see her again, and we are sure that Svetlana would wish that everyone here present today has the same assurance of Jesus Christ,” Agnes R. Bos said, before her mother’s human remains were transported to their final resting place on a hill overlooking the town. “She will always remain a hero.”
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