Archbishop Shevchuk: Ukraine Fears Invasion, “Would Be a Disaster”
The day after Pope Francis’ dramatic appeal for peace in Eastern Ukraine, given the worsening tension, the Head of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, said to Exaudi that his country fears an invasion, given the dangerous widening of Russia’s ambitions.
In this exclusive interview, His Beatitude comments on the recent events that induced Pope Francis to raise his voice forcefully in face of the deterioration of the situation, and he appeals to the International Community: “This eventuality would be a real disaster, not only for Ukraine but for all this area of the world,” he warned.
Moreover, the Archbishop stressed that all Ukrainian citizens, regardless of their religious or ethnic membership or national identity do not want the conflict to degenerate into a graver military clash. “United, we want to declare it with one voice: please, lay down the arms!”
Finally, Shevchuk discussed the role of the Churches in not fomenting the tensions, but overcoming them, and how the Catholic Church is helping the victims of the conflict. “It’s a sin, a disaster, to fuel, program and plan war precisely in Eastertide! We want the Easter singing to overwhelm the roar of arms, that only bells be heard, not canons in Ukraine. We want blood to stop flowing in our sorrowful land!”
Here is a translation of His Beatitude’s conversation with Exaudi.
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EXAUDI: Yesterday, at the Regina Coeli, the Pope made a strong appeal for Ukraine. In your opinion, Your Beatitude, why did the Pope feel he had to make this appeal precisely now? What is happening in these days?
HIS BEATITUDE: In Ukraine, we the people, the simple people, are truly very grateful to the Holy Father for his attention to us, in this moment of intense grief, intense fear, which we are living in Ukraine. This fear is caused by a massive concentration of arms and Russian troops on the borders of our country. There is talk of the largest military concentration since 2014, when this state of tension began in Eastern Ukraine. Sources speak of over 100,000 soldiers deployed, equipped with the latest arms, and an invasion is feared. This eventuality would truly be a disaster, not only for Ukraine but for all this area of the world. And then right in the moment in which this fear is growing we heard a solidary voice, a voice that expressed solidarity with us, to have our grief reach the ears of the whole world, of the International Community. Let’s say that Pope Francis is the only Pastor of this level who has come to our side in this very delicate and very painful moment. And his appeal was in fact an appeal for peace, a ‘no’ to war. And this is precisely the prayer and desire of the Ukrainian people at this moment.
EXAUDI: Your Beatitude, in the political contraposition, what role should the Churches play in not fueling these disputes but, rather, in overcoming them?
HIS BEATITUDE: Now I can also speak in the name of the Pan-Ukrainian Council of Churches and of the Religious Communities, being at present the President of this Council. This Council unites all Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Churches together with Jews and Muslims. Hence, we represent many ethnic and national groups, speaking with one voice. We made an appeal for peace underwritten by all, because now in Ukraine there is a clash, which is not, however, a clash between those that feel themselves Ukrainian and those that don’t feel themselves Ukrainians, between those that look more to the West and those that look more to the East, no! All Ukrainians, all Ukrainian citizens, without distinctions of religious or ethnic membership or national identity, express the desire that this conflict not degenerate into a graver military clash. Because, like the Pope, we too have said many times that all is lost with war, and nothing is gained. War can never be a legitimate instrument to fulfil a purpose – political, geo-political, national, economic and so on. This is our appeal, our prayer. And this is also the way in which the Council is building a mentality of peace, of reconciliation. Then we see that this inter-religious peace, which we now enjoy in Ukraine, is our fundamental religious good. We want to declare it, united, with one voice: please, lay down the arms!
In our press release, we ask all those that have responsibilities and also the power to give certain orders, to declare at least an Easter truce, because in two weeks we will celebrate Easter according to the Julian calendar. It’s a sin, a disaster to fuel, program, plan war precisely in Eastertide! We want the Easter singing to overwhelm the roar of arms, that bells may be heard and not cannons in Ukraine. We want blood to stop flowing in our sorrowful land!
EXAUDI: What is the Catholic Church in Ukraine doing to help the victims of the conflict in the East of the country?
HIS BEATITUDE: First of all, we are praying and collaborating with all the Churches. As I already said, our appeal — a text underwritten by all –, is an example of this. But we are also collaborating in humanitarian action, seeking all possible ways to be at the side of these suffering people, trapped in the occupied territory also because of COVID. In fact, all transit points are now closed, including those through which humanitarian aid could be sent.
We are trying to cooperate at the humanitarian level, also at the level of our meetings with the different diplomatic representations. We truly seek to promote peace at all levels. We are convinced that there is no military solution to the question of Eastern Ukraine. There is only one diplomatic solution. Only dialogue can lead to reconciliation; however, at the origin of this dialogue, to start this dialogue, a genuine desire for peace is necessary. And so, we wish to reawaken this desire, to make it grow, to make it fructify, and we want the International Community to be informed of our desire for peace. Therefore, we are also grateful to the Holy Father Francis for what he did to have our voice and our prayer reach the ears of the powerful of this world.
EXAUDI: Is there anything else you would like to add?
HIS BEATITUDE: I only wish to add that we turn to all, to all those that feel their conscience compel them to say ‘no’ to war, so that they too, will make an appeal for an end of the war, as I am convinced that the war can yet be stopped; if it doesn’t start it can be stopped. We are convinced that, with an effort of the International Community, this war can be avoided.
EXAUDI: Thank you again, Your Beatitude.