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Churches in Ukraine plead for mercy

18 March 2022

Civilians are suffering terribly in an increasingly bloody war, they report


In the St Peter and Paul Garrison Church in Lviv, Ukrainian servicemen stand before the coffins of three comrades killed in combat with Russian forces: Dmitro Kotenko, Kirill Moroz, and Vasil Vyshivany, who died near Kherson

In the St Peter and Paul Garrison Church in Lviv, Ukrainian servicemen stand before the coffins of three comrades killed in combat with Russian forces...

UKRAINE’S Churches have renewed their appeal for help for the civilians caught up in bloody fighting across their country.

“Millions of civilians of different nationalities and faiths who lived peacefully in Ukraine are facing a humanitarian catastrophe — with air and missile strikes on residential areas, food warehouses, hospitals, maternity wards, schools and other critical infrastructure facilities,” said the Kyiv-based Council of Churches and Religious Organisations, which includes Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Churches, as well as Muslim and Jewish unions.

The evacuation of the civilian population through humanitarian corridors could be carried out by civilian volunteers and church ministers, the Council said. “Even in times of greatest upheaval, war and dispute, we must not forget about humanity and mercy.”

The appeal was issued as President Putin’s forces drew closer to the embattled capital, shelling military defences and residential buildings. The United Nations has put the refugee exodus from three weeks of war at more than three million.

The Council said that almost 200 Ukrainian children had so far been killed and injured, at least 230 schools and hospitals and 1500 apartment blocks had been destroyed, and more than 2000 had been left dead as a result of “constant shelling” in the besieged port of Mariupol.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Major Archbishop Svetoslav Shevchuk warned on Monday that there could be “no neutral position” as his countrymen struggled to assert their “right to exist, to freedom, to be themselves”. Anyone failing to condemn the war was “an accomplice in the crime of aggression and killing of peaceful people”, he said.

The leader of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphany Dumenko, told a congregation for the traditional Triumph of Orthodoxy Sunday that Ukraine’s defenders were not only resisting Russian invaders, but also waging a struggle between “good and evil, truth and untruth, love and murder”.

He said: “The very reason for the attack on Ukraine is false — a great lie justifies the continuation of aggression, and its consequences are the cruelty, ruthlessness and murder we see in the Russian occupiers’ actions.

“Under the slogan of defending the faith, they destroy temples and kill priests and faithful. Under the guise of caring about human rights, they create intolerable conditions, destroy cities and villages, ruthlessly torture and kill innocent people. While speaking of a desire for peace, more and more people foment war.”

AlamyRefugees from Ukraine board a train bound for Berlin train at Warsaw central station on Monday

The Ukrainian Government said that at least 28 churches and houses of prayer belonging to various denominations had so far been wrecked in six separate regions, including the Orthodox and Roman Catholic cathedrals in Kharkiv and the historic Svyatogorsk Lavra monastery in Donetsk, where more than 500 refugees were sheltering when it was hit by an air strike last weekend.

Russian troops have also been accused of using occupied churches as firing positions in the conflict.

The Christian maritime charity the Sailors’ Society, which has six port chaplains in Ukraine, said that a church built in Mariupol by a local pastor, Viktor Dudnick, had been hit by a Russian bomb.

Ukraine’s independent Orthodox church said in a Facebook message on Wednesday that its diocesan administrative HQ in Mariupol had been completely destroyed, along with homes near by, during an overnight air strike on the city.

The Moscow-linked Orthodox Church said two churches in its Donetsk diocese had also been damaged.

Several more clergy from Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church have been reported killed in the conflict, as has the adopted daughter of Gennady Mokhnenko, a prominent Evangelical pastor from Mariupol, and Oleksandr Kysliuk, a veteran Orthodox professor of Greek and Church Slavonic at the Theology Academy in Kyiv.

The Roman and Greek Catholic bishops of Ukraine have welcomed plans by the Pope to dedicate Ukraine and Russia symbolically to the Immaculate Heart of Mary on 25 March during parallel ceremonies in Rome and Fatima, the site of Marian apparitions in 1917, in response to requests from church members in both countries.

The penitential gesture by Francis, who exchanged messages this week with the Mayor of Kyiv, Vitaly Klitchko, is intended to assist peace, and will re-enact a similar act by Pope St John Paul II in 1984.

In a fresh appeal on Wednesday, the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations said that the country’s armed forces were “adhering to the norms of international humanitarian law” by providing food, water, medical care, and warm accommodation for Russian prisoners of war, and appealed again for religious leaders in Russia to help to facilitate prisoner exchanges.

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