The Head of UGCC: “What is going on in Ukraine is biggest catastrophe since World War II”

Wednesday, 04 March 2015, 14:02
Interview with the Archbishop Major of the Greek Catholic Church who speaks of at least two million displaced, thousands of victims, many children among the refugees and about a possible intervention from the Pope.
  The Pope may take concrete action” regarding the conflict that is devastating Ukraine, an international initiative to bring an end to the fighting. This is according to His Beatitude Svjatoslav Shevchuk, Archbishop Major of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

 

Bishops representing Ukraine’s Greek Catholic and Latin Churches were recently in the Vatican for their ad limina visits.

 

Mgr. Shevchuk met the press and answered questions put to him by journalists. Amongst other things he stressed that the humanitarian situation is worsening as a result of the war and he reiterated that what is being witnessed in Ukraine “is not a local conflict, but an external assault”. He also said he informed Francis that the expression “fratricidal war” which he used in recent days “has hurt the sensibilities of the Ukrainians” as it seemed to echo what the Russians said about the war in Ukraine being internal conflict.

 

Archbishop Shevchuk also mentioned the words the Pope addressed to Ukraine’s bishops - “I am at your side and at your service” - and pointed out that the Pope has undoubtedly played an important role in calling for an end to the Ukraine crisis, also in his recent conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Greek Catholic bishop said he asked thePontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity to encourage dialogue among the churches in favour of peace and praised the initiative taken in this direction by the World Council of Churches. He had some harsh words in store for Putin and Russian propaganda: “The chains of falsehood need to be broken the leader of the Greek Catholic Church said. “In Russia nothing is being said about the thousands of soldiers who have died in Ukraine,” he added.

 

Mgr. Shevchuk, what is going on in Ukraine?

“There is a war going on in Ukraine; it is a foreign invasion, a war that was imposed on us from the outside. It is not a civil conflict, a disagreement among Ukrainian citizens, what we have is an undeclared war. There are thousands of refugees in our dioceses and eparchies, 6,000 people have been killed in armed conflict, more than 12,000 have been wounded and numerous people have been affected by what specialists call ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’.”

 

What did you ask the Pope for during the recent ad limina visit?

“We asked him to come to Ukraine, we know it might be too much to ask for but it really would be such a prophetic gesture. The Holy Father listened to us very carefully and immediately asked the bishops of Donetsk and Crimea to talk about their experiences. The bishops felt that the Pope made them feel welcome, they felt encouraged and reassured by him about the fact they made the right choice: the choice to stand by our people, to listen carefully to the voice of our people.”

 

The Pope talked about respect for international law but he also asked bishops not to get involved in politics and spoke out against those who get rich by exploiting the crisis. How do you view this advice?

“The Holy See defends Ukraine’s sovereignty and integrity, international law; if a country annexes Crimea it violates international law. This cannot be called an internal conflict. We haven’t come to represent political parties, we are the voice of civil society. We aren’t telling the president what he should do. We are also asking for social justice, the Ukrainian people are asking for reform, justice reforms for example, because we have unfair judges. There is still talk about the oligarchs, a revolution of dignity has broken out against them ; this oligarchical system has led Ukraine to disaster.”

 

There is a war going on in Ukraine, but what are the consequences on a humanitarian level?

“The war always brings destruction and misery. The Ukrainian economy is really flopping and is facing a crisis. Officially, the UN has declared that there are a million displaced in Ukraine but church bodies tell us that this figure is in actual fact double. Almost 600,000 people have been forced to flee to other countries. The Ukrainian government is unable to manage this situation. I call this situation a humanitarian catastrophe on a scale that has not been witnessed in Eastern Europe since World War II. For this reason I have asked the Holy Father and various bodies of the Roman Curia to launch an appeal for humanitarian aid on an international level. We have managed to provide shelter to 40,000 people in our Ukrainian Caritas centres, but this is not enough: there are 140,000 children among the displaced and then there are the wounded. So in order to really save human lives we need solidarity on an international level."

 

What concrete actions are you taking as a Church, as Christians?

“Even in these tough war conditions we need to remain Christian. A Christian is a person who trusts in God because hope comes not from politicians but from our Lord. At the same time we must turn our faith into action. I told the Holy Father that we have an immense treasure to protect in Ukraine now: religious freedom.  Even in these tragic conditions there is solidarity among the various denominations – Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants -, there is a practical ecumenism, because we are all doing the same thing: saving human lives.  No one asks these people in need: are you Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim? No, that is not what we do. We are united in order to serve.”

 

What was your reaction to the Pope’s appeal for possible peace?

“We welcomed it as a big challenge and we welcomed it with trust. Because we really are working for peace to stop the war. We certainly need to use all means possible in order to achieve this. We are waiting for an agreement to be reached on an international diplomatic level. We have seen that the Minsk agreement failed because it was not a ceasefire. Let us hope that the Holy Father’s appeal will be heard by everyone, not just the victims in Ukraine but also the powerful around the world.”

FRANCESCO PELOSO "Vatican Insider"

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