The head of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church has urged his countrymen “not to be afraid to defend their homeland” as official military chaplains began work for the first time in the country since Communist rule and Russian forces announced a major border exercise.
“For the first time in the post-[Second World] war years, people need to give their lives and shed blood for their country’s independence,” said Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych. “But God’s power is able to extinguish any conflict and confrontation – and people who hope in God remain undefeated and can defend their country and state.”
The archbishop, whose church combines the Eastern Rite with loyalty to Rome, was speaking as Ukrainian army units were reported to be gaining ground against pro-Russia separatists around the eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Russia’s Defence Ministry announced exercises this week on the Ukrainian border, involving over 100 bombers and fighter jets, as military chaplains began work in Ukraine’s armed forces in 1 August, nine decades after chaplaincies were abolished under Soviet rule. The secretary general of the Greek Catholic Synod of Bishops, Bishop Bogdan Dziurach, told The Tablet that his church had designated around 70 priests for military work, of whom a dozen were currently serving in the eastern conflict zone.
In a separate interview, Bishop Dziurach welcomed new US and European Union sanctions as a “necessary step to stop the Kremlin and end the carnage”. He added that Western governments now “saw more clearly” that Russian actions threatened “the entire world”.
Pro-Russia forces released a Catholic priest, Fr Viktor Vonsevich, last week after abducting him in mid-July, but were reported to have killed five Pentecostal pastors and youths after accusing them of helping the Ukrainian army. The Interfax news agency reported on Monday that an Orthodox priest, Vladimir Kreslansky, had been killed by Ukrainian army shelling at Luhansk.