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The Head of the UGCC: Ten years of Russia's war against Ukraine is genocide

16 February, 12:57

On the eve of the second anniversary of the full-scale invasion and the tenth since the beginning of Russia's war against Ukraine, the Papal Charity Foundation "Aid to the Church in Need" (ACN International) held a press conference titled "2014–2024: Ten Years of War in Ukraine." The Head of the UGCC Sviatoslav and the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas addressed approximately 70 journalists from around the world via video link from Kyiv.

This was reported by the Information Department of the UGCC.

In the opening remarks, the Executive President of the Aid to the Church in Need Foundation, Ms. Regina Lynch, noted, "With such a large number of conflicts and upheavals around the world at this time, there is a real danger that Ukraine may be forgotten, as the attention of the world community shifts from one crisis to another," she said. "We at ACN are determined to prevent this from happening."

Voice of the Church in Ukraine

During the video conference, the Head of the UGCC and the Apostolic Nuncio informed journalists about the current situation in Ukraine and how the Church is responding to it.

"I have some good news from Ukraine," began His Beatitude Sviatoslav. "The first is that we are alive, and as a Church, we try to bring hope to our people amid suffering, destruction, and death. The second is that international humanitarian solidarity is functioning and allows us to save so many lives in Ukraine."

The Head of the UGCC thanked friends from the Aid to the Church in Need Foundation for their visits to Ukraine and comprehensive support, as well as for emphasizing that the war in Ukraine began 10 years ago with the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the occupation of Donbas.

The Apostolic Nuncio pointed out that this war is "not just a theory." He recounted often meeting with the families of prisoners, both military and civilian. Some of them have been in captivity for 7 years or more. "How often do we remember the two priests from Berdiansk who are prisoners - Ivan Levytskyi and Bohdan Heleta! We do not know where they are or what situation they are in," added the Archbishop.

The Nuncio also emphasized that in Kharkiv region, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk region, and Kherson region, "almost all schools have been closed" for 4 years: first due to the pandemic, now due to the war. Children are studying online, and in some places, kindergartens and schools are beginning to be equipped in underground premises.

In such circumstances, the Church in Ukraine "acts as one body," Monsignor Visvaldas Kulbokas noted, emphasizing that at the center of its ministry in wartime is the human person.

Children of War

Responding to journalists' questions about the mission of Pope Francis's special envoy, Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, His Beatitude Sviatoslav noted that one of its tasks is to return kidnapped Ukrainian children. He stressed that "children in Ukraine are the most vulnerable part" of Ukrainian society, which has suffered significant trauma, especially over the past 2 years of Russian aggression. Over 500 children have been officially recognized as deceased, over 1,200 have been injured, and many of them have lost limbs and require prosthetics.

The Head of the UGCC thanked Cardinal Zuppi for his efforts aimed at returning kidnapped Ukrainian children.

"If we unite our efforts at various levels - diplomatic, humanitarian, even with the help of journalists from different countries - more and more Ukrainian children will be saved and will be able to return from Russia to their homes," expressed Patriarch his hope.

UGCC in the occupied territories

In the territory occupied by Russia today, "there is not a single Catholic priest," stated His Beatitude Sviatoslav. Moreover, a few weeks ago in Donetsk, where people gathered for prayer even without a priest, the occupiers closed the church. In the occupied part of Zaporizhzhia, the head of the occupying authorities banned the activities of the UGCC and confiscated church property last year.

"Practicing our faith is becoming increasingly difficult for our people," noted the Head of the UGCC.

War crimes must be condemned

The war of Russia against Ukraine, which has been going on for 10 years now, aims to "destroy the existence of an entire nation," warned the Head of the UGCC.

"We can testify that what is happening in Ukraine now is genocide," said the Patriarch. "The state authorities [of Russia] have decided to eliminate the existence of an entire people. In Ukraine, people are being killed because they are Ukrainians."

His Beatitude Sviatoslav emphasized the importance of recognizing Russia's war crimes in Ukraine. He thanked those organizations that come to Ukraine for their investigation.

"It is very important to condemn these war crimes. Because if we don't, they will continue and affect other nations and other parts of the world. Recognizing such crimes as genocide means stopping them," stated the Patriarch. "We, Ukrainians, need to be heard so that the world sees our pain and so that the aggressor is stopped."

Do you have doubts?

His Beatitude Sviatoslav invited those who have doubts about the scale of Russia's atrocities in Ukraine to "come and see."

"Visit those who are injured or the families of the deceased," he said. "Come and see, come and touch human wounds."

New pastoral methods

According to the Head of the UGCC, in the conditions of war, the Church is seeking new methods of pastoral care, particularly concerning people "who are grieving, in mourning, and those who have lost their loved ones." His Beatitude Sviatoslav called it "pastoral care of mourning."

"The future of Ukraine, the future of the Church depends on how we can respond to this huge need of the people in Ukraine to overcome the trauma of war," he said.

According to the Patriarch, the war has deeply wounded the heart of Ukrainian society, which is the family. Therefore, the UGCC seeks to envelop primarily the families of the deceased, wounded, missing, and captured with its pastoral care.

"The Ukrainian family is undergoing constant torture today," he emphasized, adding that in 2023, over 180,000 marriages and about 120,000 divorces were registered in Ukraine. "This is the largest number of divorces in the history of independent Ukraine... And the biggest pastoral challenge for me, for our priests, for the Church," concluded the Primate.

What help do Ukrainians need today?

Approximately 7 million Ukrainians, noted His Beatitude Sviatoslav, "are experiencing a food crisis" because the war continues, and the "first euphoria" regarding humanitarian aid from various organizations has faded.

In addition to food, people need housing. According to the Head of the UGCC, parishes in the East, South, and Center of Ukraine play a key role in receiving and accommodating internally displaced persons who "are trying to settle in the nearest relatively peaceful city."

At the same time, the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is working on retraining clergy and monasticism to provide "psychological, physical, and spiritual support" to the population. The Patriarch added that teachers, volunteers, and other professionals have also been invited to participate in such training.

His Beatitude Sviatoslav also mentioned rehabilitation centers opening in Ukraine, such as "Unbroken" in Lviv, where young Ukrainians undergo rehabilitation and prosthetics. He noted that more such centers are needed.

Background

The Papal Charity Foundation "Aid to the Church in Need" (ACN International) provides assistance to persecuted Churches in more than 145 countries worldwide. In Ukraine, it collaborates with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches. Founded in 1947 to support those affected by the Second World War, this organization implements over 5,000 projects per year.

Since Russia launched a full-scale attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022, ACN has provided assistance totaling over $15 million to clergy, monasticism, and seminarians, supported initiatives aimed at healing the wounds of war and assisting refugees, and more.

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