Archbishop on Ukraine’s ‘silent and forgotten war’

Ukrainian government army soldiers patrol an area in the village of Debaltseve, Donetsk

Four years of fighting in eastern Ukraine have led to “the biggest humanitarian crisis on the European continent since the end of the Second World War,” according to the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv called on the international community and the Catholic Church not to neglect the crisis in Ukraine.

Since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, the Ukrainian conflict has taken the lives of more than 10,000 people and has left 1.6 million people displaced, according to the United Nations.

“Besides all these casualties and human tragedies, there is still another hidden danger of the war in eastern Ukraine: This region is at risk of suffering a dire, long-lasting ecological catastrophe due to flooded mines and contaminated drinking water, which is comparable in scale to the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster of 1986,” warned the archbishop.

“As many as 4 million people might be left without safe drinking water in the region,” he continued, “all of this is happening right now, in Ukraine, the largest country in Europe.”

The fighting has also damaged basic infrastructure. The World Health Organization documented multiple attacks on Ukraine’s hospitals between 2014 and 2016.

“This is a silent and forgotten war. Because it is a ‘frozen conflict,’ no one speaks loudly about the war in Ukraine anymore,” said the archbishop.

Although a standing cease-fire exists in Ukraine, it was violated over 1,200 times in one week in July, reported the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Special Monitoring mission in Ukraine.

“Many specialists nowadays call this war in Ukraine a ‘hybrid war,’ that is, a war where not only traditional weapons are used on battlefields, but where all means of destruction, including economic and information warfare, are employed,” explained the archbishop, “Thanks to information technologies, modern wars are not limited to specific territories.”

“Everyone in the Western world today experiences the consequences of this information war, which targets truth by disseminating ‘fake news’ and  moulding public opinion according to dishonest goals. Unfortunately, not even your country or other developed countries in Western Europe have been spared from these attacks. Please remember: it is not only our war – it is the war for humanity!” said Shevchuk.

“How does the Catholic Church in Ukraine, and in particular our Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, respond to the needs of the millions of people suffering from the consequences of war?” Shevchuk asked the Knights of Columbus.

The archbishop’s response was “diakonia,” the Greek New Testament term for charitable service. In the case of Ukraine, “diakonia” entails “serving to one’s neighbor, taking care of those afflicted by the war, by providing them with spiritual guidance and often with social service as well,” he said.

“Charity is an antidote to egoism and indifference. I would say that charity is also a key to understanding the success of the Knights of Columbus in Ukraine,” he continued.