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Ukrainian church leaders condemn attack on dam

08 June 2023

Zelensky government declares emergency, evacuates villagers


A flooded street in Kherson on Tuesday, after the breaching of the Nova Kakhovka dam

A flooded street in Kherson on Tuesday, after the breaching of the Nova Kakhovka dam

CHURCH leaders in Ukraine have deplored Tuesday’s attack on a Dnipro river-dam complex, which forced the mass evacuation of civilians.

“Flooding below the Dnipro poses a deadly danger for hundreds of thousands of affected people . . . as well as a long-term danger for the Zaporizhzhia nuclear station,” the Primate of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church (OCU), Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), wrote in a Facebook post.

“These are all fruits of the anti-Christian, human-hating ideology of the ‘Russian sphere’, which is ready to sacrifice everything for the Kremlin empire, irrespective of the consequences.”

Russia has denied responsibility for the attack.

The Metropolitan issued the message as desperate efforts were made to stem flood damage from the 90-foot Nova Kakhovka dam, upriver from Kherson, after its central part was blown up early on Tuesday morning.

He urged Christians to pray for those at risk from an “act of Russian state terror”, and said that President Putin and those following his orders would face “eternal damnation” for inflicting “suffering, bloodshed, and death” on innocent people.

The Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, called on the “world community” to condemn Russia for the attack, and said thousands of residents were now in “mortal danger”.

“The destruction of the Kakhovka plant is another war crime, a terrible ecological and man-made disaster, and a sin against God the Creator,” he said in a message on Tuesday. “I thank people of goodwill all over the world who are helping save human lives in Ukraine. At the same time, we call on the world community to condemn these terrorist actions by the Russian aggressor and react appropriately to them.”

President Zelensky’s government declared a state of emergency, and said that at least 17,000 people were being evacuated from 80 villages in the path of the flood. The President of the EU Council, Charles Michel, also branded the attack a war crime by Russia, and the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, warned of a “monumental catastrophe”.

Christian Aid has renewed its emergency appeal for Ukraine (christianaid.org.uk) after the UN expressed fears that the flooding could be an environmental disaster. The charity and its partners will be providing humanitarian supplies to people who have had to leave the affected areas of southern Ukraine.

A spokesman for the Kremlin, Dmitri Peskov, denied Russian responsibility, however, and said that the attack on the two-mile dam, which helps to supply water and power to much of Ukraine, was a “deliberate act of sabotage” by Kyiv’s forces.

The disaster occurred as the President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, held talks with Ukrainian church representatives and President Zelensky on Monday and Tuesday. The two-day “peace mission” to Kyiv, the Vatican said, was aimed at “listening in depth to the Ukrainian authorities on possible ways to achieve a just peace and to support humanitarian gestures to help ease tensions”.

In a statement on Tuesday, however, President Zelensky’s office said that President Zelensky had reiterated that Kyiv’s peace proposals required Russia’s withdrawal from all occupied territory, and had ruled out any “ceasefire or freezing of the conflict” which allowed Russia to “rebuild its capabilities” and “conduct a new wave of crimes and terror”.

Speaking later to journalists, President Zelensky said that he had asked the papal envoy, whose “peace mission” was announced by the Vatican on 20 May (News, 26 May), to help to secure the release of Ukrainian prisoners and deported children, whose known total is currently 27,000.

Apart from meetings in Kyiv, Cardinal Zuppi visited the Orthodox St Andrew’s, Bucha, where 119 murdered civilians were buried after a brief occupation by Russian troops in the wake of their invasion in February last year.

The visit took place at the same time as Moscow was claiming that its forces had driven back an assault by eight Ukrainian battalions in the eastern Donetsk region, killing 250 soldiers and destroying 16 tanks. Kyiv government sources, however, denied that the latest fighting formed part of a long-expected counter-offensive.

In a statement on Monday, the British Ministry of Defence said that ten Ukrainian military chaplains had completed training with UK counterparts, in the first such course, enabling them to “provide vital spiritual and pastoral support” to front-line military personnel.

The statement said that the chaplains, trained at the request of Ukraine by the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department, would now be given the task of helping to “build hope and restore spirits as troops battle to reclaim Ukraine’s sovereign territory”.

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