Of all the Ukrainian cities currently under attack, Kharkiv is one of the most targeted. On Tuesday (1st March) a missile struck the house of the Roman Catholic bishop, Pavlo Honcharuk, tearing a hole in the roof. No one was injured. “So now we too have received one of these ‘presents’,” said the bishop in a short video message which he sent to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Despite the damage, work in the house carries on unhindered: women in the kitchen are preparing hot meals which are taken to two nearby underground stations where hundreds of people are sheltering.
Catholic and Orthodox bishops visit the injured
Bishop Honcharuk found refuge from the attacks in a bunker, along with about 40 other people, including Bishop Mytrofan, from the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Together, these two brother bishops have been visiting the injured in hospital and taking part in food distributions. Such ecumenical co-operation has only been made possible by the war.
In the meantime, Bishop Honcharuk spoke about the great damage that has occurred in other parts of the city – not to mention the numerous deaths. The image of the missile attack on Freedom Square in central Kharkiv went around the world. A government building there was destroyed, and many people are thought to have been killed.
Residential buildings heavily damaged
The Russian military has claimed repeatedly that no civilian targets in Ukraine would be attacked. Yet another video clip sent to ACN shows badly damaged apartment blocks which, according to the bishop, lie opposite a destroyed factory.
“Those were flats. All the windows were blown out. Many people were killed. The overhead cables of a bus route were destroyed,” Bishop Honcharuk says, obviously shocked by what he sees. Several burnt-out cars and craters caused by the explosions are visible in the streets. A solitary old man is trudging along the road and the bishop warns him to be careful. In the video Bishop Honcharuk looks into a car: “There was shooting here. There is blood here.”
The situation in Kharkiv and in other places is becoming increasingly critical. In view of the escalating crisis, ACN is supporting priests and religious in Ukraine, so that they can continue their pastoral and charitable work.
The international Catholic charity is providing an emergency package of €1 million (more than £830,000) which includes aid for four Greek Catholic Exarchates and the two Latin dioceses in eastern Ukraine which cover Kharkiv, Donetsk, Saporischschja, Odessa and Crimea. Dr Thomas Heine-Geldern, international executive president of ACN, said the money will go to priests and religious who work across the country in parishes, or with refugees, orphans and the elderly. The charity is also asking for prayers for peace in Ukraine.