.- The head of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church said the country is facing a “humanitarian catastrophe” with global consequences that cannot be ignored by the international community.
He called on participants of next week’s G7 Summit in Bavaria to work toward effective solutions.
“The aggression against Ukraine is a challenge for preserving peace in the world which cannot pretend that nothing happens in Eastern Europe,” said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, an eastern rite Catholic Church in full communion with Rome.
Conflict erupted in Ukraine last year in February when the country’s former president was ousted following months of violent protest, and a new government appointed. In March, Ukraine’s eastern peninsula of Crimea was annexed by Russia and pro-Russian separatist rebels have since taken control of eastern portions of Ukraine, around Donetsk and Luhansk.
More than 6,000 people have died in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Rebels have been supported by both Russian arms and troops, according to both Ukraine and Western nations.
A ceasefire was brokered and officially began at midnight Feb. 15, however fighting has continued.
Archbishop Shevchuk told CNA May 28 that the conflict in Ukraine is not simply an isolated dispute, but rather has “serious global consequences.”
He spoke of the Vatican’s diplomatic commitment to helping find a peaceful solution to the Ukrainian conflict, as well as a possible visit of Pope Francis to Ukraine.
Below is CNA’s full interview with the archbishop, edited for clarity and grammar:
Q: In February a ceasefire in the conflict zones of Ukraine was agreed to, however fighting seems to continue. Has the conflict improved at all since February, and are there signs on either side that fighting could end by the 2016 decentralization goal?
A: We have received the news about a cease-fire agreement in Minsk with great hope. However, it is with sadness that we must admit that these agreements have not been implemented. The cease-fire is being violated. It’s true that the intensity of fighting on the occupied territories has decreased, but it doesn’t mean that the fighting has stopped at all. Every day we receive sad news that someone has been killed or wounded in the result of continued fighting. Yesterday (May 27) we learned that our army was under sustained shelling near Mariupol. The most alarming for the Ukrainian society, however, is the fact that over the last months, hundreds of pieces of heavy weaponry have reached Ukrainian territory from the side of the Russian Federation. This equipment includes tanks (there are about 700 of them in Donbass according to the Ukrainian authorities), heavy artillery, mobile rocket launchers etc. Besides that, according to the information of the Ukrainian government and international observers, there is a massive accumulation of Russian troops in Ukraine and on the Russian border. These facts make us believe that Russian side with its heavy military presence in Ukraine is not seeking peace, they don’t rely on the rule of law or on the respect of the international agreements but they abide only to the rule of force. Using the threat of arms, Russia is trying to dictate its will to Ukraine. In my opinion, as long as the fighting continues in Ukraine and there is an increase in Russian military presence on the occupied territories of Donbas, the true political process, which would lead to a peaceful solution of the conflict, is unlikely to bring any results. So in this sense, the intended decentralization as a part of the constitutional reform of the Ukrainian government will have no effect on the peace process either.
Q: The topic of the Ukrainian conflict will most likely be addressed during the G7 Summit in Bavaria June 7-8. Do you have hopes for the outcome of the discussion, and are there specific themes that you would like to see leaders address?
A: For ordinary Ukrainian citizens it is very important that the international community, especially the G7 Summit, considers the war in Ukraine not under the perspective of a local conflict but as a conflict with serious global consequences coming into effect now and even more so in the future. I think an encouragement for Russia’s violation of the international laws and military aggression is the fact that no international institution nowadays has the power to provide proper functioning of the international security system which used to guarantee peace between the nations in the past. In these circumstances, no one in the globalized world can be at peace, no one can feel safety, even if he/she finds himself/herself far away from Eastern Ukraine. The aggression against Ukraine is a challenge for preserving peace in the world which cannot pretend that nothing happens in Eastern Europe. I would like that the G7 Summit in Bavaria takes into account that the Eastern Europe now faces a humanitarian catastrophe which, considering the territory it might effect, is the greatest crisis since the end of the WWII. Let us stop the war together! Let us show solidarity to Ukraine which is a victim of unjustified aggression!
Q: Pope Francis has shown great interest in the Ukrainian conflict, and is credited with having helped restore relations between the United States and Cuba. Do you think that the Vatican could help in reaching a peace agreement in Ukraine?
A: Holy Father Pope Francis has stated on numerous occasions that he will do everything possible to prevent the outbreak of a new war in Europe. During the last visit “Ad limina” of Catholic Bishops of Ukraine to the Vatican (Feb. 20, 2015), Pope Francis assured our Bishops that the Holy See will do its best to secure peace agreements in Ukraine. How it will happen, what steps will be taken, we don’t know. But the history of our Church teaches us that the peace of Christ always wins over the war, and the truth of God is on the side of those who are unjustly treated. Seventy years ago all our Bishops were imprisoned by the Stalin regime, our Church structures were destroyed, our church property was confiscated. Our enemies thought they put to an end the very existence of our Church, but to their great surprise after many years of clandestine existence in the underground, our Church has risen to a full ecclesial existence 25 years on the eve of Ukraine’s Independence. We want to believe that today God is with Ukraine because our country is a victim of unjust military aggression. We are convinced that our Savior, who became a victim Himself on the cross for the salvation of the humankind, will help us. And the Holy Father, who is Vicar of Christ on earth, is and will be our support and our help in these difficult times.
Q: The Pope has also been invited by the bishops to visit Ukraine. Has there been a response on the part of the Vatican as to when a visit could foreseeably take place?
A: The Catholic Bishops of Ukraine as well as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko have officially invited the Pope to visit Ukraine. In our opinion, similarly to military conflicts between Argentina and Chile as well as Argentina and Great Britain, the peace mission of the Holy Father helped to stop the war. So we are convinced that the visit of the Holy Father to Ukraine would be a very powerful gesture of peace which, empowered by the Holy Spirit, would accomplish what is not possible for the G7. As far as I know there is no official response of the Holy See to this invitation, but there is no decline of the invitation either. So we pray and we hope that this visit will take place in the nearest future.