Marking nearly one full year of conflict in Russia’s war in Ukraine, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said that the prayers, solidarity, and material support to Ukraine are helping to give his people hope.
“It’s a miracle we are still alive,” Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk told reporters at a news conference organized by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
“So many good people around the world are united with us in their prayers, in their thoughts, and also in their generosity,” Archbishop Shevchuk continued. “Without your assistance, we would not survive.”
Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24, 2022. Since then, more than 100,000 troops on both sides, as well as tens of thousands of civilians, have been killed. Electrical blackouts remain a constant issue for much of the country. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been appealing in recent weeks for additional foreign aid amid the latest Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.
Despite nearly a year of conflict, the situation in Ukraine is still “deteriorating, especially from the humanitarian point of view,” the Archbishop said. Some 15 million Ukrainians have left their homes, of which 7 million are refugees outside of Ukraine. Even if some Ukrainians are able to return to their homes, most lack the basic resources needed to survive, he said.
He said a major focus of Ukraine’s Catholic leaders currently is recognizing that people need “not just food and clothes, but a word of hope.” He said he and other leaders are in the process of creating a training program for his priests to be able to provide basic psychological and counseling services for the many Ukrainians who are suffering from trauma as a result of the war. The Archbishop also said he is working to establish a counseling center in each of Ukraine’s Catholic eparchies.
During the press conference, Archbishop Shevchuk was asked about Father Ivan Levytskyi and Father Bohdan Heleta, two Redemptorist Catholic priests who have been captives of the Russians since late last year. The priests had chosen to stay in territory under Russian occupation to serve the local Greek Catholic and Latin-rite Catholic communities, and have reportedly suffered torture at the hands of the Russian invaders. Archbishop Shevchuk replied that the priests are still imprisoned and that information about their plight has come from people who were in the same cell with the priests, and were later released.
He urged prayers not only for the Ukrainian people but also for Christians in Russia who are suffering as a result of the war.
Also speaking during the press conference was Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, the apostolic nuncio to Ukraine. He said there is currently a portion of Ukraine, with an area larger than Croatia, with no Catholic priests currently working because they have been arrested or hurt.
Despite this, the prayers and support that is still coming into Ukraine is making a difference. He said he often hears from military leaders about miracles that have taken place during the war, such as missiles missing a car that was later found to have a rosary inside.
“We feel your presence, we feel your closeness … your prayers are producing miracles,” Archbishop Kulbokas said.