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Ukraine churches demand action on war crimes amid new peace efforts

19 May 2023


President Zelensky, at the Vatican for a meeting with Pope Francis last Saturday

President Zelensky, at the Vatican for a meeting with Pope Francis last Saturday

UKRAINIAN Churches have backed demands that Russian leaders face trial for war crimes in the country.

“Acknowledging the scale of grief inflicted by Russia on our believers . . . we unconditionally support the creation of an International Tribunal to prosecute the Russian authorities for the crime of aggression,” the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations said on Monday.

“Constant artillery, missile, and bomb strikes on civilian homes, schools, kindergartens, churches, mosques, and synagogues; the destruction of cities and villages, and deliberate destruction of Ukraine’s historical, cultural, and spiritual heritage; the murder of women and children, executions, torture, kidnappings, the mockery of inter­­national law and nuclear blackmail — all this cannot and should not go unpunished.”

The statement was issued as Kyiv, Kharkiv, and other cities were again hit by Russian missiles, and as church sources confirmed that a Christian Aid warehouse had been destroyed in retaliation against the Ukrainian performance at last Saturday’s Eurovision Song Contest final in Liverpool.

The Council called on the the UN, UNICEF, and Red Cross to demand the return of deported Ukrainian children, and urged a “compensation mechanism” to reimburse Ukraine for its losses.

In Facebook appeals for Sunday’s Ukrainian Mothers’ Day, the Primate of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church (OCU), Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian mothers had been “forcibly separ­ated from their children, awaiting them from the Front, and from occupation and captivity”.

The exchanges followed President Zelensky’s stopover in Rome on Saturday during a fresh tour of European capitals. He again invited Pope Francis to visit Ukraine.

The Holy See’s press office said that the two had discussed the “humanitarian and political situation”, and agreed on “the need to continue humanitarian activities for the benefit of the population”.

In his own statement, however, President Zelensky said that he had requested the Pope’s “condemnation of the crimes in Ukraine, because there can be no equality between the victim and the aggressor”. Speaking to the broadcasting network Radiotelevisione Italiana before receiving Germany’s Charlemagne Prize on Sunday for “services to European unification”, the President said that he had also invited the Pope “to work for a just peace”, but said that mediation was not currently needed, since there could be “no negotiation” with President Putin.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) held talks in Kyiv on Thursday of last week, urging a return to dialogue. The WCC said that its delegation, headed by the general secretary, the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay, had met leaders of Ukraine’s two rival Orthodox jurisdictions during a four-day visit, besides visiting the massacre town of Bucha, and Kyiv’s disputed Pechersk Lavra monastery, whose Father-General, Metropolitan Pavlo (Lebed), remains under house arrest for resisting the site’s repossession by the Ukrainian state (News, 6 April).

Both Metropolitan Epiphany’s OCU and the Moscow-linked UOC had “given clear signs of willingness to engage in dialogue”, the WCC said, in “a sign of hope for healing one of the many wounds and divi­sions which this tragic conflict has deepened.”

In a separate statement on Tuesday, the WCC said that Professor Pillay would lead a team going to Moscow this week for talks with Patriarch Kirill, in a further attempt “to build bridges of peace and reconciliation” and “end military conflicts, wars and violence”.

Christian Aid said that its humanitarian-aid warehouse had been “completely demolished” when Russia attacked the western city of Ternopil on Saturday night, as the local music duo Tvorchi were appearing in the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool, a year after Ukraine won the competition.

It said that no injuries had occurred, but that Mother’s Day food packages had been destroyed by Russia, which was excluded from Eurovision after its February 2022 invasion.

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