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Church leaders and aid charities seek to avert disaster in Ukraine

22 February 2022

Alamy

Passengers alight from a train in Aprelevka railway station, near Moscow, on Tuesday, after being evacuated from Donbass, in south-eastern Ukraine

Passengers alight from a train in Aprelevka railway station, near Moscow, on Tuesday, after being evacuated from Donbass, in south-eastern Ukraine

AID charities have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine, as church leaders in Europe continued to appeal for peace and an end to military confrontation (News, Comment, 18 February).

“The people of Ukraine have already endured eight years of armed conflict in the east, a conflict largely forgotten — over 1.5 million people have been displaced, with an estimated 2.9 million currently needing humanitarian protection,” the charity Caritas-Europe said in a statement.

“A deterioration of political dialogue and potential escalation in hostilities threaten to increase these needs exponentially, while swift action is necessary to respond to already unmet humanitarian needs relating to access, food and non-food items and psychosocial support.”

The appeal was made as President Biden agreed to meet President Putin after planned Paris talks this week between the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, and the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov.

It said that millions of Ukrainians would flee their homes if Russia invaded, triggering a “humanitarian disaster on a scale not seen for decades”, and a “wider humanitarian emergency” in Eastern Europe.

Another group of charities said that thousands of homeless Ukrainians were already dying each year from “hypothermia, heart attacks, and frostbite”, and that tents, food, and emergency medical help were needed to help “battle a freezing winter”.

“Tensions have continued to bubble over the past eight years, and the people of Ukraine have suffered the consequences as the economy failed to recover — many who fled the initial fighting have faced the threat of destitution and homelessness, while the Covid pandemic has exacerbated the problem,” Depaul International, a group of charities working with the homeless and marginalised, said.

“Unless the international community acts swiftly to de-escalate the situation, thousands more will lose their homes.”

Ukraine said on Monday that it had recorded more than 100 truce violations in its eastern regions, amid an upsurge in heavy-weapons fire.

Boris Johnson warned that Russia was planning “the biggest war in Europe since 1945”.

Addressing Parliament, the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace, said that Russia appeared to have boosted its forces over the weekend, and he warned against “false-flag operations, propaganda stunts, and Russian news outlets carrying fictitious allegations”.

In Kiev, the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations, which called in late January for “a consolidated rebuff to the Russian aggressor”, urged a prisoner exchange and warned that “terrible bloodshed” would “leave an indelible mark for many generations”.

The Primate of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphanius, called on citizens to avoid debilitating panic, and resist Russia’s “insidious goals” of “intimidation, threats, lies, and pressure”.

In a Facebook message on Sunday, Metropolitan Epiphanius said that Ukrainians should concentrate on “understanding and controlling” their fears, and remember “nothing in the world happens without God’s will.”

The Mufti of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims Crimea, Ayder Rustemov, urged Muslim soldiers in the Russian army to desert and return home. He warned that a war would force them to “fight Muslims defending Ukraine and their homes, families, and honour”.

A well-known Pentecostal pastor and former Red Army soldier, Gennadiy Mokhnenko, who runs rehabilitation centres for orphans and drug addicts in Mariupol, also urged parents of Russian servicemen not to be “fooled by Kremlin villains”.

“My own children have been seeing war on the front line from their bedrooms for eight years — their whole childhood has been a war,” Mr Mokhnenko said in a website message. “Your sons could be thrown into a hellish massacre started by the Kremlin — and then even I, a pastor, will have no choice but to take up arms and defend my children.”

Russia began massing forces last October, prompting fears of a full-scale offensive against Ukraine, where pro-Kremlin separatists declared two independent eastern republics in 2014, triggering a low-intensity war that has left more than 14,000 dead.

United States sources said this week that up to 190,000 Russian troops were now deployed on Ukraine’s borders in 84 battle groups, despite the arrival of US and NATO reinforcements in Eastern Europe, and have estimated that up to 85,000 soldiers and civilians could die initially on both sides in a full-scale war, according to the Reuters news agency.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who chairs Ukraine’s Council of Churches and Religious Associations, told Poland’s Catholic Information Agency that he maintained “total faith” in diplomacy, but that Ukraine was now “much better prepared” to defend itself than in 2014.

The president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan, whose country is currently host to more than one million Ukrainian migrants and asylum-seekers, appealed to citizens to “keep an open heart” to a likely upsurge in refugees.

The All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian-Baptists, which co-hosted a Kiev visit last week by the secretary-general of the Baptist World Alliance, Elijah Brown, distributed aid at the weekend to children of soldiers killed in past fighting, and said in a statement that it counted on God to “bless Ukraine, so the plans of the devil and his servants will be broken”.

A churchwarden of Christ Church, the Anglican chaplaincy in Kiev, Christina Laschenko-Stafiychuk, said that her small community had been “overwhelmed” by messages of “support and solidarity in prayer” from around the diocese in Europe.

“Of course, we are scared; but we are better prepared than eight years ago,” Ms Laschenko-Stafiychuk said in a message at the weekend. “Ukrainians have no other options: this is our land, and we are ready to stand for it, and for our identity as well.”

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