Ukrainian church leaders have urged citizens to maintain their fight against Russia’s invasion, as the Pope condemned the war in some of his strongest words to date, amid mounting evidence of atrocities against civilians by President Vladimir Putin's forces.
“Ukraine is showing the whole world there are certain values – love for the motherland, love for neighbours – for which it is worth giving one's life: we feel more and more that Ukraine's struggle is a spiritual struggle against evil, against the devil and his servants”, said Major Archbishop Svetoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, whose Greek Catholic Church combines the eastern rite with loyalty to Rome.
“If the enemy kills us and sows death, let us serve life and honour human life. If we see the enemy robbing Ukrainians, stealing and looting, let us be generous benefactors, supporting those needing Christian charity.”
The archbishop issued the appeal
at the start of the week, as Ukrainian officials confirmed the remains of more than 400 civilians, many with marks of rape and torture, had been recovered from Bucha, Irpen, Gostomel and other towns recently abandoned by Russian forces near Kyiv.
He said it was essential the world should “see and hear” about the “horrific war crimes” committed by invading troops, which recalled scenes from Nazi occupation during the Second World War.
However, he warned that the rest of Ukraine was still “shaking from Russian bombs and missiles”, particularly around Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv, Mariupol and Odessa, and vowed Ukrainians would continue “gaining a strange internal strength to defend their homeland”.
Meanwhile, the head of Ukraine's independent Orthodox Church branded the civilian mass killings a “sign of genocide”, and warned that the “victory of tyranny” over his country would “become a new circle of hell on earth”.
“The whole world now sees what we have long known: the enemy does not just wish to achieve certain officially stated goals, no matter how absurd and false - the enemy came to our land to erase the very identity of the Ukrainian people, to de-Ukrainianise Ukraine”, Metropolitan Epiphany Dumenko said during a Monday funeral in Kyiv for a murdered photographer and film-maker, Maksym Levin. “Yet the victory already achieved by the Ukrainian people is getting closer every day – a moral and military victory.”
On Monday, US President Joe Biden again condemned President Putin as a war criminal and vowed to continue weapons supplies to Ukraine, amid global outrage over the discovery of mass graves and bodies lying in the streets at Bucha.
Meanhile, the European Commission said it was preparing further sanctions against Russia, as France and Germany expelled dozens of Russian diplomats in reaction to the atrocities.
Speaking during his brief visit to Malta, the Pope described the conflict as a “sacrilegious war”, and told government officials and civil society groups on Saturday Europeans had believed “invasions of other countries, savage street fighting and atomic threats” were just “grim memories of a distant past”.
“The icy winds of war, which bring only death, destruction and hatred in their wake, have now swept down powerfully upon the lives of many people and affected us all”, the pontiff added.
“Once again, some potentate, sadly caught up in anachronistic claims of nationalist interests, is provoking and fomenting conflicts, whereas ordinary people sense the need to build a future that will either be shared or not at all. Now in the night of the war that is fallen upon humanity, please let us not allow the dream of peace to fade.”
In a TV interview on Monday, the head of President Volodymyr Zelensky's office, Andrij Jermak, welcomed the pontiff's disclosure to journalists he was considering travelling to both Kyiv and neighbouring Poland, after receiving fresh official invitations to both countries, and said a wartime Papal visit to Ukraine would be “historic and very important”.
Meanwhile, the Vatican's nuncio, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, said Kyiv was still being bombed and shelled, as all efforts to end the war failed, adding that hospital officials in the capital had confirmed that children were being deliberately targeted by Russian sharp-shooters. However, the Pope had repeatedly pledged “to do everything to help stop the war”, Archbishop Kulbokas said, so “all possibilitities” remained open.
Preaching on Sunday in Moscow’s new military cathedral, Kirill urged Russians to pray for “multiplying the power of the armed forces”, and urged military personnel to stand ready to lay down their lives “as the word of God testifies”.
“We are a peace-loving country and long-suffering people
, who suffered from wars like few other European nations”, the Patriarch said. “All our people must wake up today and understand that a special time has come, on which their historical fate may depend.”
In a birthday message on Saturday, Kirill praised the “courageous, selfless and responsible” work of the Russian navy's commander-in-chief, Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, adding that his forces, currently blockading and shelling Ukraine's Black Sea ports, were “invariably showing valour and courage in defending the interests of the Fatherland”.