Catholic leader thanks Poles for welcoming 1 million people fleeing Ukraine war

Polish volunteers help Ukrainian refugees arriving at the train station in Przemyśl, southeastern Poland Polish volunteers help Ukrainian refugees arriving at a train station in Przemyśl, southeastern Poland. | Kutsenko Volodymyr/Shutterstock.

The leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church thanked Poland on Monday for welcoming more than a million people fleeing Ukraine.

In a video message recorded on March 7 in the besieged Ukrainian capital Kyiv, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk also praised Pope Francis for describing the conflict in Ukraine as a war.

“I would like to thank today, in particular, the Polish people, the Polish episcopate, the Polish government, because they have received already more than one million refugees into their embraces, into their homes, and they are trying to do everything to give the necessary aid to these people,” Shevchuk said.

“May the Lord God repay you a hundredfold”

The U.N. refugee agency reported on March 7 that more than 1.7 million people have fled Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion on Feb. 24.

Almost 60% have entered neighboring Poland, where the Catholic Church is helping tens of thousands of people.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk records a video message in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 7, 2022. Secretariat of the Major Archbishop in Rome.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk records a video message in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 7, 2022. Secretariat of the Major Archbishop in Rome.

The 51-year-old major archbishop expressed gratitude to Pope Francis for his choice of words in his Sunday Angelus address.

The pope said: “Rivers of blood and tears are flowing in Ukraine. It is not merely a military operation, but a war, which sows death, destruction, and misery.”

Shevchuk underlined that Francis rejected the idea, advanced by the Kremlin, that the Russian offensive in Ukraine is “a special military operation,” rather than an offensive war.

“He said clearly and distinctly that this is not some kind of operation, this is a war,” the major archbishop said. “War, first of all, against peaceful people, against the peaceful population.”

The U.N. human rights office said on March 6 that it had recorded 1,123 civilian casualties, with 364 killed and 759 injured.

Shevchuk’s video message came as Russian forces neared Kyiv, where the major archbishop is sheltering with others under the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral of the Resurrection.

He said he felt deep sorrow at the suffering of civilians on Kyiv’s outskirts.

“In particular my heart is in anguish for my Kyiv Archeparchy. Vicious battles are taking place in the suburbs of Kyiv,” he said.

“Three cities have become extensive and horrible battlefields, literally several tens of kilometers from the center of Kyiv. These are Irpin, Hostomel, and Bucha.”

Shevchuk said he had learned that the head of the city council of Hostomel, a town northwest of Kyiv, was killed while distributing food and medicine.

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He lamented the absence of safe “green” routes for civilians seeking to leave cities surrounded by Russian forces and called for a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“Unfortunately, all talk of green corridors for the possibility of evacuating people from cities that are suffering the most from siege and bombardment is not coming true,” he said.

“Today we ask the world community: ‘Close the sky over Ukraine!’”

The major archbishop observed that Monday marked the start of Great Lent for Ukrainian Christians who follow the Julian calendar.

“Today we pray, fast, and do good works,” he said.

Shevchuk concluded his message with a prayer.

“We pray today for the Ukrainian army. We bless our volunteers, all those who bring the day of victory closer,” he said.

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“O God, bless Ukraine! O God, bless the Ukrainian nation! O God, save Your people and bless Your inheritance!”

“May the blessing of the Lord be upon you through His grace and love for humankind, always, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”

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