Ukrainian Catholic leader: ‘Women are becoming the first victims of the occupation’

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk records a video message on March 17, 2022 Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk records a video message on March 17, 2022. |

The leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said on Thursday that women are becoming the “first victims” of the occupation of his homeland.

In a video message issued on March 17, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk called for prayers for women living in parts of Ukraine controlled by Russian forces.

“In our villages in the Kyiv region, women are becoming the first victims of the occupation, victims of violence, victims of humiliation, victims of rape,” he said.

In his message, the major archbishop referred to a viral image known as the “Kyivan Madonna,” which depicts a woman who is breastfeeding her newborn child in a bomb shelter in the Ukrainian capital.

“Every day when we talk to people who come to our parishes, especially in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Odesa, we see first of all women,” he said.

“Women who care for the elderly and feed their children. When we care for our people who are hiding in bomb shelters, we see first of all women. The woman is today the symbol of the strength and courage of Ukraine.”

He added: “Perhaps it seems odd: courage and woman. It used to be that courage was always associated with a man, but here we see the female strength that gives Ukraine hope.”

Shevchuk recalled that more than 3 million people, mainly women and children, have left Ukraine since the full-scale Russian invasion on Feb. 24.

“Today Europe has seen mothers who hold their children by the hand, rescuing them from war, but their parents turn back to defend their land with arms,” he said.

“Who can fully comprehend the pain of a woman, a mother, who mourns the death of her son killed in war? Or a woman who has lost her husband, brother, or sister?”

The 51-year-old major archbishop expressed gratitude for the prayers of Ukrainian women, whom he likened to the “Orans of Kyiv,” an monumental image of the Virgin Mary in the city’s St. Sophia Cathedral.

The image, also known as “the Unshakeable Wall,” depicts Mary with her hands lifted in prayer. Tradition reportedly holds that the city of Kyiv will stand as long as the image remains at the cathedral.

The ‘Orans of Kyiv’ at St. Sophia Cathedral in the Ukrainian capital. Public Domain.
The ‘Orans of Kyiv’ at St. Sophia Cathedral in the Ukrainian capital. Public Domain.

Shevchuk said: “But most of all we are amazed by women who stand in prayer before God. Women who are like the Kyiv Oranta, the Unshakeable Wall, who day and night with upraised arms prays for her city, prays for her country.”

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He went on: “Today the woman is the symbol of hope for Ukraine, a symbol of fearlessness, a symbol of victory of life over death, a symbol of the fact that Ukraine will stand even through such inhumane circumstances. “

“Today we pray to the Immaculate Virgin Mary, preparing for this consecration of Ukraine and Russia and her Immaculate Heart, which Pope Francis announced. We would like to dedicate women and the women of Ukraine to the protection of the Immaculate Theotokos.”

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