A Catholic bishop has voiced fears that mass starvation could soon force millions of refugees from eastern Ukraine to flee to Europe.
Bishop Jan Sobilo, an auxiliary in the Diocese of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia, claims a Russian-backed separatist campaign is fuelling Ukraine’s “worst humanitarian crisis” since the Second World War.
“The West should prepare itself to accept the millions of homeless, hungry refugees who will soon head across central and western Ukraine towards Europe,” said Bishop Sobilo. Aid organisations also warned of growing starvation and deprivation in eastern Ukraine. The bishop told The Tablet that a lack of water currently posed the “biggest problem” in rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk, where food prices were three times higher than in the rest of the country.
“Whereas family members and friends were ready to help for a month or two, most have now exhausted their money and savings and have had to ask the refugees to move on,” he said. Local children would be unable to start the next academic year because most schools were closed, he added.
He also suggested the Ukrainian authorities had hushed up a spiralling rate of suicides in order not to “shock public opinion”, saying: “Many elderly educated people, who previously had jobs, have been unable to face begging on the streets and have thrown themselves from windows and bridges. Huge numbers are now caught between hammer and anvil – the separatists aren't looking after them, and the Ukrainian Government won’t care for them because they haven't declared which side they’re on.
“People are continually arriving at our Catholic communities asking for food, medicines, money and shelter – including young widows with small children, whose husbands have stayed in the war zone or been killed. Not since the Second World War have we seen such poverty and destitution.”