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World Council of Churches calls for end to blockade of Ukrainian food

11 August 2023


A Russian howitzer fires at Ukrainian positions from an undisclosed location, in a video released by the Russian Defence Ministry Press Service

A Russian howitzer fires at Ukrainian positions from an undisclosed location, in a video released by the Russian Defence Ministry Press Service

RUSSIA should end its blockade of Ukrainian food exports, because it leaves 247 million people facing shortages and 24 million “on the brink of famine”, the World Council of Churches (WCC) has said.

“The Russian Federation’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain initiative is catastrophic for global food security,” a WCC statement signed by the general secretary, the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay, says.

“The ongoing destruction of dams, bridges, infrastructure, storage silos, and ports, and the damage caused by flooding of agricultural lands all add to the long-term degradation of the region’s capability to be a vital source of food and livelihood.”

The appeal was issued as Russia continued attacks on Ukrainian ports, a month after pulling out of last year’s deal.

A UNESCO delegation visited central Odesa this week to report on damage to the UNESCO World Heritage Site before a meeting of countries participating in the 1907 Hague Convention on the laws of war.

The WCC said that 33 million tonnes of grain had left Ukraine in the past year, providing most of the World Food Programme’s needs; but the war had already damaged global agriculture, making food “more expensive and unaffordable” to the world’s poorest.

The Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople, accused the Russian Church and the Patriarch of Moscow of undermining Orthodox unity by backing the conflict, and urged his Russian critics to “see the beam in their own eye”.

“For almost five years, we have tasted ingratitude through the unilateral interruption of communion by a subsidiary Church — not for doctrinal reasons, of course, but for geopolitical expediency,” Patriarch Bartholomew said at a service of vespers on Antigone Island, in Turkey.

“An Orthodox state is fighting another fraternal Orthodox people with paternal and patriarchal blessings from its official Church: I mean Patriarch Kirill of Russia, who blesses with his two hands this hideous, devilish war, instead of condemning it.”

Kyiv government sources said that the UNESCO mission had been sent to Odesa after the destruction of its historic Orthodox Transfiguration Cathedral on 23 July (News, 28 July). They said that St Catherine’s Cathedral, Kherson, had also been hit twice at the weekend by Russian artillery, who had inflicted serious injuries.

On Tuesday, the Primate of the Ukrainian independent Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), urged citizens to remain “united and focused on repelling the onslaught of Russian invaders”, pending a “desired victory and just peace”.

On Monday, the Father-General of the Pechersk-Lavra monastery, in Kyiv, Metropolitan Pavlo (Lebed), was released on bail after four months’ detention, pending trial for supporting the Russian invasion and inciting religious hatred.

Another Moscow-linked Metropolitan, Ionafan (Yeletsky) of Tulchinsky, was imprisoned for five years in Vinnitsa on similar charges, in a ruling branded “lawless” by Patriarch Kirill.

“In this court decision, dictated by hatred for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, we see another act of blatant violation of religious freedom,” he said on Tuesday.

“I call once again on the world community, on religious and political leaders, and human-rights organisations to pay attention to the purposeful policy of the Ukrainian authorities aimed at destroying the Church and continuing the unpunished persecution of its hierarchs, clerics, monastics, and laity.”

The Pope expressed “great sorrow” at the sufferings in Ukraine during a mass on Sunday to close the World Youth Day festival in Portugal (News, 4 August). He also told officials and diplomats that he regretted that the European Union was not pursuing “creative ways for bringing an end to the war”.

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