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Archbishop Welby pledges solidarity during three-day visit to Kyiv

30 November 2022

He says he is ‘deeply moved’ by Ukrainian refugees’ stories

Lambeth Palace

Archbishop Welby in central Kyiv on Wednesday

Archbishop Welby in central Kyiv on Wednesday

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has pledged solidarity with Ukrainians during a three-day visit to Kyiv, in which he deplored the suffering inflicted on them during the war, now in its tenth month.

“The people of Ukraine have shown extraordinary courage in the face of Russia’s illegal, unjust, and brutal invasion,” Archbishop Welby said on Wednesday.

“This visit is about showing solidarity with them as they face a profoundly difficult winter.” He said that he was looking forward to meeting church leaders and Christians in Kyiv, “and learning how we can continue to support them amidst the ongoing devastation, loss and destruction of this war”.

The Archbishop spoke after arriving in the Ukrainian capital from Poland, where he said that he had been “deeply moved” by stories told to him by refugees at a crisis centre in Warsaw.

He said: “In this season of Advent, we remember that Jesus was born into conflict and persecution — and became a refugee when his parents fled violence and persecution to seek safety in Egypt.

“I urge Christians in the Church of England and around the world to keep praying for the people of Ukraine in this Advent season — and all people around the world caught up in conflict. Let us keep offering our solidarity and support in every way we can”.

The Archbishop was accompanied by the Bishop in Europe, Dr Robert Innes. Together, they inspected the work of church charities in supporting refugees and internally displaced people in the city. They met surviving members of Christ Church, the Anglican chaplaincy.

The Archbishop’s visit took place as Russian shells and missiles inflicted further damage on Ukraine’s electricity and water supplies; Ukrainian forces struck back at targets in Russia’s southern Kursk region.

Meeting in Bucharest on Tuesday, NATO ministers pledged further arms supplies and help to restore Ukraine’s power grids, while also promising to admit the country to the alliance at a future date.

In a weekend message to Ukrainians, the Pope deplored the “tragic stories” that he had heard from the war, and called on the country’s leaders to take “far-sighted decisions for peace and economic development”.

He said: “Despite the immense tragedy they suffer, the Ukrainian people have never been discouraged or yielded to self-pity. The world has recognised a bold and strong people, a people who suffer and pray, cry and fight, resist and hope: a noble and martyred people.”

Lambeth PalaceThe Archbishop of Canterbury tours the centre of Kyiv with members of the Anglican community on Wednesday

Pope Francis came under fire from Russian officials for suggesting, in an interview to the US Jesuit magazine America on Monday, that Chechen and Buryat soldiers “not of the Russian tradition” had shown the worst cruelty in Ukraine.

“This is no longer just Russophobia — it is a perversion on a level I cannot even name,” a spokeswoman for Moscow’s Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, responded in a social-media post.

Russia has relied heavily on ethnic-minority recruits since invading Ukraine on 24 February, although there is no published data to suggest that non-Russian soldiers have been any more responsible for war crimes than Russians.

Reacting to the Pope’s remarks, the governor of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, described Pope Francis as “a victim of propaganda and foreign media persistence”.

Aid organisations warn of worsening winter conditions across Ukraine. In a statement this week, the head of the Roman Catholic Caritas network in Poland, the Revd Marcin Izycki, predicted a new wave of refugees.

On Tuesday, Kyiv’s mayor, Vitali Klitschko, said that the Ukrainian capital was having to adjust to between two and three hours of electricity per day, while the project manager of the Caritas-Spes, Olena Noha, told Austria’s Kathpress agency that people were being “worn down more and more” by “darkness and constant fear of missiles”.

The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, is to consider a mass petition calling for a ban on Ukraine’s Moscow-affiliated Orthodox Church, whose prohibition on national security grounds has also been proposed in a bill before the Kyiv parliament, after a series of police raids on its churches and monasteries.

Addressing MPs in Westminster on Tuesday, the president’s wife, Olena Zelenska, urged Britain to help set up a “special tribunal” to hold Russia “responsible for the crime of war and terror”, while G7 justice ministers also announced a network of war crimes investigators.

In a Facebook post the same day, the spokesman for the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Archbishop Yevstratiy (Zoria), said that he believed that the “most appropriate place” for an international-war-crimes court would be Moscow’s 6000-seat military Resurrection cathedral, which was consecrated with government backing by Patriarch Kirill in June 2020. He added that Nuremberg had been chosen for the post-war trial of Nazi criminals because Hitler had held “great rallies” there.

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