THE largest Christian charity in Ukraine has warned of worsening conditions, as church leaders welcomed a ceasefire in the six-year war with pro-Russia separatists.
“We’ve had a humanitarian crisis because of this war — and now the situation is deteriorating through Covid-19, creating even more suffering,” the president of the organisation Caritas, Andrij Waskowycz, explained.
“People in the war area lack resources for their basic needs, while a generation of children is growing up here, in 21st-century Europe, knowing only war.”
Mr Waskowycz spoke as the truce entered its second week in the rebel-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions. He told Vatican Radio that aid agencies were attempting “to bring help and hope”, especially to elderly people left alone in the eastern buffer-zone, but said that the crisis had been further intensified by floods — the worst in living memory.
The ceasefire was praised by the head of Ukraine’s largest Orthodox Church, who said in a statement that his clergy had provided assistance to victims on both sides, besides helping to negotiate the release of Ukrainians captured by separatists.
“Our Church fully shares and supports the peaceful initiatives of the Ukrainian authorities aimed at overcoming the bloodshed,” Metropolitan Onufry Berezovsky said. His Church, loyal to the Russian Moscow Patriarchate, is in conflict with a new independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine (News, 8 February 2019).
“We are ready to assist the negotiation process and help restore the desired and long-awaited peace, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of Ukraine within internationally recognised borders.”
Churches have repeatedly appealed for peace in eastern Ukraine, where more than 14,000 soldiers and civilians have died in fighting and shelling since 2014, according to the United Nations (News, 13 December 2019).
The “full and comprehensive ceasefire”, brokered since 27 July by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, has raised hopes of returning to a 2015 peace plan, which would restore Ukrainian control over the border with Russia in return for self-rule in separatist-held areas.
It was praised as a “sign of goodwill” by the Pope, who hoped that it would be accompanied by “effective disarmament” and the mass clearance of mines.
The All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, which brings together 16 Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical Churches, as well as Jews and Muslims, said that it would also back Red Cross efforts to help families of the deceased and missing.
Mr Waskowycz told Vatican Radio, however, that many Ukrainians were sceptical about the ceasefire, and international monitors were already reporting dozens of violations. “The people of Ukraine want an end to this war; but the question is whether this agreement is wished more by one side than the other,” he said. “We’ve already had 20 ceasefires, and they were all broken every time, adding to the war’s great losses.”
In a recent report, the UN Office for Coordinating Humanitarian Affairs said that access to “livelihood opportunities and basic services” remained severely disrupted along the 290-mile “contact line” between Ukrainian and separatist forces.
The coronavirus had “exacerbated vulnerabilities”, it said, raising the number of people in need to 3.8 million in June: close to one tenth of the population.
The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, who pledged an end to the conflict at his April 2019 election, urged religious leaders to pray for peace last week. In a Facebook post, he said that Ukrainians had “no right to forget or neglect the values of Christianity”.