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Church organisations call attention to worsening plight of Ukrainian refugees

22 July 2022


An icon of the Virgin Mary seen earlier this month in a church in southern Ukraine destroyed by Russian shelling

An icon of the Virgin Mary seen earlier this month in a church in southern Ukraine destroyed by Russian shelling

THE Primate of the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine, Major Archbishop Svietoslav Shevchuk, has urged continued humanitarian support for more than 12 million people uprooted by the war in his country. At the same time, church organisations in Europe have also appealed for increased aid.

“Intensified hostilities are now causing a new wave of refugees and internally displaced persons, as people leave everything behind and head into the unknown,” Archbishop Shevchuk said in a message on Monday.

“Whether or not you know these people, I ask you with pain and sadness in my heart to surround them with prayer. Just as prayer unites a mother with a son on the front line, or a man and woman separated by war, so prayer also unites and helps all those lonely today.”

The Archbishop made his appeal after chairing a week-long session of the governing synod, which was relocated to neighbouring Poland because of insecurity in Kyiv. Among final resolutions, the synod also called on church charities to increase assistance to those left “displaced, wounded, poor, and marginalised” since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

Meanwhile, the international charity World Vision said that it had helped more than 116,000 refugees with food, health care, and education during the first 14 weeks of the war, but warned that one third of Ukraine’s population, and two-thirds of its children, had now fled their homes, leaving up to 24 million needing humanitarian support over coming months.

The full scale of the devastation in Ukraine was not yet known, the charity said, which was “gearing up for an ongoing, multi-year response” to what looked certain to be a prolonged crisis.

“The scale of the numbers being displaced, the damage to infrastructure, and harm done to people and places, are things we have witnessed in conflicts before,” its statement continued.

“The fluid nature of this crisis and the scale of need means we have frequently had to adapt and flex our response to meet daily challenges, while also scaling our response to meet the needs of millions.”

More than 5.8 million Ukrainian refugees are currently dispersed in Europe, mostly under national protection schemes, and at least seven million more are displaced inside the country, mid-July data from the UNHCR indicate.

The UN refugee agency said that research suggested that most hoped “to return home as soon as possible”, although two-thirds expected to stay away “until hostilities subside and the security situation improves”.

In late June, the European Parliament approved a reinforcement of the EU’s Temporary Protective Directive, to allow better reception, family tracing, and social support, as well as improved identification, registration, medical checks, and security screening.

In a statement for World Refugee Day, on 20 June, however, Eurodiaconia, a network that represents 52 Churches and Christian social organisations, warned that problems remained with recognition of IDs and documents, as well as access to funding and material support. Countries such as Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia still faced “unprecedented pressures” from Europe’s largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, it said.

“Across Europe, our members have a long history of supporting refugees, and have once again responded rapidly to this massive movement. They have been at the forefront, alongside many others, meeting people at borders and creating the capacity to shelter people, provide food, clothing, and other necessities”.

Christian organisations in Ukraine, including the RC Caritas network, have continued dispensing aid in largely destroyed cities such as Mariupol, receiving help via Poland, which initially took in half of all the refugees, mostly through provision by families and local organisations, and is still sheltering up to two million.

In a statement in late June, however, Caritas-Europa warned that more than 100 million people had been “forcibly displaced” worldwide so far this year, mostly in Africa and Asia, owing to “conflict, violence, human-rights violations, and persecution”.

It said that food insecurity had been worsened by the Ukraine conflict, and urged EU decision-makers to show “global solidarity” by ensuring similar “safe pathways” and integration facilities for others, “regardless of their country of origin”.

“The unprecedented response and immediate political act of solidarity towards those fleeing the war in Ukraine inspires hope that, when there is political will, incredible efforts can be made to facilitate access to protection and full participation in society, in line with EU values,” said Caritas-Europa, whose appeal was echoed by Eurodiaconia in its World Refugee Day statement.

“People on the move should not be perceived as a threat, and pushbacks at our borders must stop immediately. Instead, we urge European leaders to provide a humane response to all, drawing on the welcoming response to those displaced from Ukraine.”

Archbishop Shevchuk’s Western Rite counterpart, the Archbishop of Lviv, the Most Revd Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, told Vatican Radio that he was deeply grateful for the help provided by church charities across Europe. But conditions appeared to be deteriorating, and, in recent days, there had been a growing influx from embattled eastern Ukraine of orphaned children and “maimed people, often in wheelchairs” who seeking shelter in his western diocese.

Churches in Germany, which is currently home to about 800,000 Ukrainans, issued guidelines this week for the pastoral care of members of various Ukrainian denominations, following reports of an increase of religiosity among refugees.

The secretary general of the International Catholic Migration Commission, Monsignor Robert Vitillo, told the Greek Catholic synod that a working group, Catholic Response for Ukraine, had been formed among RC charities, and would now “redouble its humanitarian partnership” with church communities in Ukraine and neighbouring countries.

Certain “special needs” had not been adequately addressed in previous aid appeals, he said, including pastoral care and “more specialised and intensive psychological help” for widows, orphans, and those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

Read more on the story in our leader comment

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