The leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church said on Friday that the Church is offering hope to the country’s beleaguered population amid a “very dangerous escalation” in the Ukraine crisis.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk was speaking on Feb. 4 at an online event marking eight years of conflict in the Eastern European country, organized by the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
“We feel that we are on the edge of a very dangerous escalation of the military aggression against Ukraine,” said Shevchuk, who has led the largest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome since 2011.
“It is true that Ukraine has been attacked by Russia already eight years long. But the escalation which we have right now is not a simple continuation of the war in Donbas or the continuation of, or consequence, of the annexation of Crimea. Right now, there is something very different.”
“We are facing full-scale escalation between Russia and the collective West. I mean, Russia and NATO countries, specifically the United States. And in this conflict, in this escalation, Ukraine is only part of the full panorama of different threats and tensions.”
The 51-year-old major archbishop said that the possibility of a large-scale Russian invasion was taking a psychological toll on Ukraine’s 44 million population.
But he said that Christian leaders were determined to be “preachers of hope,” no matter how bleak the situation appeared during the country’s freezing winter.
“Everybody is telling you ‘Well, everything is bad. Everything’s falling apart.’ Christians have hope because we believe that God is with us. You do have a hope. We do have resources to withstand. We do have the light of hope,” he said.
“And we are preachers of good news for the Ukrainian people who are afraid, disorientated, threatened, and hungry, and that has helped us to stay together and project something positive in such a dangerous situation,” he said.
Since 2014, ACN has given more than 350,000 euros (around $400,000) to 33 projects offering emergency support to people affected by conflict in eastern Ukraine. It has also donated funds to help the country tackle COVID-19, helped to build seminaries, and paid Mass stipends for priests.
Pope Francis has repeatedly appealed for peace in Ukraine. He led a day of prayer for peace in the country on Jan. 26.
Shevchuk has previously expressed hope that Pope Francis will visit Ukraine. The 84-year-old pope has outlined ambitious travel plans for 2022 but has not commented recently on a possible visit to the country.
In 2001, John Paul II became the first pope of the modern era to visit Ukraine, which borders Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus, and Russia.