Ukrainian Church leaders marked eastern Christmas last weekend with calls for national determination, as Russia pressed on with attacks despite declaring a ceasefire and the Pope warning of new “third world war”.
“Despite the simulated Christmas truce, fighting did not stop for a moment on the front – the enemy continued to kill by bombarding our towns and villages,” said Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the head of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church.
“On this festive day, however, we want to tell the whole world Ukraine is holding on, fighting and praying ... Victory over evil, victory over the occupier will mark a real renewal for our Ukrainian homeland, a renewal prepared by our work and the sacrifice of our lives.”
The archbishop issued the message as Russian missile and drone strikes continued, despite President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a ceasefire for the 7 January Orthodox Christmas.
He said Christmas had brought new hopes for a “victorious New Year”, as well as opportunity to reject “inertia, despair, indecision and fear”, and to believe in a future where Ukraine’s destroyed cities and villages “rose again in a completely different, renewed reality”.
Meanwhile, Metropolitan Epiphany Dumenko, from the country’s independent Orthodox Church, compared the millions of refugees forced to escape Russian aggression to the flight of Mary and Joseph.
He deplored the “indescribable suffering” brought to Ukraine “by the newest Herod and his embittered servants”.
“Women, children and the elderly, escaping the Kremlin dictator’s murderers, are forced to leave their native home and flee to a foreign land, often far away, for safety from cruelty and violence”, the metropolitan said in a Sunday homily.
“We pray for the repose of the souls of innocent victims of the Russian attack, for recovery, and physical and mental healing for those injured and maimed by Russian bombs, bullets and rockets and for protection and help for displaced persons who, like Christ and His earthly parents, left their native land, seeking protection from danger.”
In a national address, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukrainian forces were holding their ground in the embattled eastern Donbas, as the European Union prepared a tenth package of sanctions against Moscow and several Nato countries, including Britain and the United States, confirmed plans to supply Ukraine with tanks and armoured vehicles.
Meanwhile, Russian airstrikes continued to inflict casualties, killing two women at a village market southeast of Kharkiv, after pre-Christmas calls for a ceasefire by Patriarch Kirill of Moscow were dismissed as propaganda and deception by Ukrainian officials.
Speaking on Sunday in St Peter’s Square, the Pope regretted that Ukrainians were suffering during a “Christmas at war, without light, without heat” and urged prayers “for mothers who have lost soldier sons, both Ukrainian and Russian”.
In a New Year address to diplomats, he said the war provided the “closest and most recent example” of how a “third world war” was already “taking place in a globalised world”.
He added that attacks on Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure were causing deaths “not only from gunfire and acts of violence, by also from hunger and freezing cold”.
“Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and humanity,” Francis said, quoting the Church’s pastoral constitution, Gaudium et Spes.
“Today, I feel bound to renew my appeal for an immediate end to this senseless conflict, whose effects are felt in entire regions, also outside Europe, due to its repercussions in the areas of energy and food production.”