Major archbishop: Russia’s east Ukraine move places ‘all of humanity’ in danger

His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church ACI Group CNA Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. | ACI Group

The leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said on Tuesday that “all of humanity has been placed in danger” by Russia’s recognition of independence for areas in eastern Ukraine.

In an appeal issued on Feb. 22, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognize the breakaway Ukrainian regions of Lugansk (LNR) and Donetsk (DNR) as independent entities.

“The recognition by the president of the Russian Federation of the ‘independence and sovereignty’ of the self-proclaimed LNR and DNR creates serious challenges and threats for the entire international community and for international law, on the basis of which today people and their nations exist and cooperate,” he said.

“Irreparable damage has been done to the very logic of international relations, which are called to safeguard peace and the just order of societies, the supremacy of law, the accountability of state powers, the defense of the human being, human life, and natural rights.”

“Today all of humanity has been placed in danger — that the powerful have a right to impose themselves on whomever they wish, with no regard for the rule of law.”

His comments came a day before Pope Francis announced a global day of prayer and fasting for Ukraine to be held on March 2, Ash Wednesday. The pope announced the initiative at his general audience on Feb. 23.

The 51-year-old major archbishop has led the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches, since 2011.

There are more than four million Ukrainian Greek Catholics worldwide, most of whom are based in Ukraine, a predominantly Orthodox Christian country with a population of 44 million people. Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Russo-Ukrainian War began in February 2014, focused on the east of Ukraine. The conflict has claimed more than 14,000 lives and driven 1.3 million people from their homes, according to Caritas Internationalis, a Vatican-based confederation of Catholic charities.

The warring parties agreed to a cease-fire in July 2020. But recently Russia has sent at least 150,000 troops to the Ukrainian border.

President Putin announced in a televised address on Feb. 21 that he would recognize the breakaway Ukrainian regions of Lugansk and Donetsk as independent entities. The regions, which are run by Russian-backed separatists, include land currently held by the Ukrainian armed forces.

Western countries responded to the announcement by unveiling sanctions targeting Russian banks and politicians.

In a video address on Feb. 23, Putin said that Russia remained “open for direct and honest dialogue” in search of diplomatic solutions. But he added that Russia’s interests were “non-negotiable for us.”

“The war, initiated against our people in 2014, has inflicted deep wounds on many of our fellow citizens: thousands killed, wounded, left in solitude,” Shevchuk said.

“Yesterday’s step taken by the president of the Russian Federation destroyed foundational principles for a long-term process of restoring peace in Ukraine, created the path for a new wave of military aggression against our state, opened the doors for a full-scale military operation against the Ukrainian people.”

The major-archbishop said that the citizens of Ukraine, Europe’s second-largest country by area after Russia, had a “natural right and civic duty” to defend their homeland.

“Now has come the time to unite our efforts in order to defend the independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of the Ukrainian state,” he said.

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Shevchuk appealed to people of goodwill “not ignore the suffering of the Ukrainian people, brought on by Russian military aggression.”

“We are a people who love peace. And precisely for that reason, we are ready to defend it and fight for it,” he commented.

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