12 October 2023, The Tablet

Church leaders speak out as Ukraine mourns 52 killed in missile strike

“People, children and the elderly, are dying unjustly every day – just because someone has entered someone else's territory and home.”

Church leaders speak out as Ukraine mourns 52 killed in missile strike

Emergency services in Kharkiv following missile strikes on 6 October.
Ukrinform / Alamy

Ukrainian Church leaders have deplored a fresh wave of Russian missile strikes, which resulted in the highest single death-toll so far this year at a village near Kharkiv.

“This was a week of cynical war crimes by the Russians, with our military noting a new tactic for attacking our motherland from the sky,” said Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

“By launching rockets along Ukraine's borders with other states, the enemy is making it harder to destroy them. In the south, grain storage is being systematically destroyed – as the Russians seek to take away the bread with which Ukraine tries to feed the world's hungry.”

Shevchuk spoke during three days of mourning after last week’s attack on a gathering at a restaurant in Groza which killed 52 people, a sixth of the village's population.  

In a national message on Monday, the archbishop said Catholic charitable work at Berislav, on the Dnieper River near Kherson, had also been halted after local Church property was damaged by “constant attacks and airstrikes”.

Meanwhile, the Russian strikes were also condemned by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Kharkiv-Zaporizhzhia, Pavlo Honcharuk, who said people had gathered in Groza for the reburial of a Ukrainian soldier, whose wife, son and relatives had also been killed.

“This was a quiet village, where people lived peacefully well away from the front line, and where there were no soldiers,” Bishop Honcharuk told Vatican Radio.

“We are present here, helping and praying with our people, aware of the danger of death and understanding we are here today but may not be tomorrow... People, children and the elderly, are dying unjustly every day – just because someone has entered someone else's territory and home, killing everyone he encounters.”

The attacks came as Ukrainian forces reported fresh advances in Russian-occupied territory, but warned their counter-offensive could be slowed by deteriorating autumn weather.  President Volodymyr Zelensky urged US and Western politicians in a video message on Monday not to be distracted by the new Israeli-Palestinian conflict from continuing to back his country.

Shevchuk said Ukraine’s Greek Catholic delegation to the synod had “born powerful witness” to Ukraine’s “suffering, pain and struggle” and had also found support from the “entire Catholic Church” with “unanimous condemnations” of Russian crimes.

He added that the Pope had assured him he would “never tire of speaking about Ukraine’s martyrdom” or of “awakening the conscience of modern Christians” to what was happening. 

“There is so much hatred during war – and when Ukrainians hear some positive word from the Pope about Russia, they immediately explode with pain: how can we talk about a great nation that has sunk to such a base ideology, preached even in its Church, which speaks of the destruction of millions of Ukrainians?” the archbishop said.

“We are so hurt by everything we are going through today. But the word of love even to enemies is the secret of true victory, and we are also experiencing this daily in Ukraine.”

In a weekend message, the head of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), warned against a “growing temptation to despair and belief” in the face of Russian atrocities, adding that those who “suffered innocently” would be “glorified with Christ” while “trial and merciless condemnation” awaited Vladimir Putin and other “criminals, torturers and murderers”.

However, Patriarch Kirill assured monks at the Trinity-St Sergius Monastery, north of Moscow, that Russia’s saints were with its leaders and armed forces as they “resisted world evil” and struggled for their country’s “salvation”.

“Unity is when each of you prays for Russia, for our president and for the army – when each of you understands he has his own place in this struggle for our Fatherland's freedom,” Kirill said in a Sunday address.

“If there is no free Russia, then there will be no Russian Church – there will only be those who betray from within and absorb from without... As we enter such a difficult historical period, we must all be mobilised: bishops, priests, monastics, nuns – everyone!"

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