UKRAINE: Families still enduring constant ‘psychological torture’

A cemetery in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, western Ukraine.
A cemetery in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, western Ukraine.

In the run-up to the second anniversary of the war in Ukraine, one of the country’s most senior Catholic leaders has described how the Church is overwhelmed with the task of supporting families tormented and broken by the conflict.

Speaking at a conference organised by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, said that the trauma of the war “has already affected the heart of Ukrainian society – the family”.

Major Archbishop Shevchuk said: “The future of Ukraine and the Church depends on how we will be able to respond to this need to overcome war trauma.”

According to the head of Ukraine’s largest Catholic Church, close relatives of frontline soldiers are experiencing severe grief – not knowing if their loved ones are dead or alive.

He said: “Today the majority of families live in separation, because the men are in the army and women with children have left their own cities, or even the country.

“One woman, a 23-year-old mother of two, asked me: ‘Am I a widow? Should I pray for my husband as one who is alive, or dead?’

“Every time we have prisoner exchanges and their husbands don’t return, their grief is renewed, so it is constant physical and psychological torture for each family.”

He explained that the Church is faced with the immense “pastoral challenge” of helping broken families, saying: “Very often you can do nothing, but be present, cry with them, hold the hand of this woman, or this soldier who is experiencing pain.”

Also speaking at the conference on 14th February, Regina Lynch, International Executive President of ACN, warned that “with so much conflict and unrest around the world at present, we are in real danger that Ukraine could be forgotten, as global attention moves to the next crisis.

“At ACN we are determined that this does not happen, and this is part of the reason that we are using this year’s Lenten Campaign to highlight the situation in Ukraine.”

She added: “Ukraine is experiencing its own Way of the Cross.

“The goal of the campaign is to provide much-needed support during the conflict, including assistance for seminarians, priests and religious sisters, who help with the care of the displaced and impoverished people as well as trauma healing for soldiers and their families.

“We also focus on youth and family ministry.

“We urge all our friends and benefactors not to forget our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and to pray for them during the period of Lent.”

Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, also called on the international community not to forget about Ukraine.

He said: “For people abroad it is difficult to imagine what is going on here.

“Some are tempted to think that everything has finished, but we are losing hundreds of lives every day, both military and civilians.”

Major Archbishop Shevchuk stressed: “Over the past year we were able to withstand the largest humanitarian crisis after World War II” – but the “first euphoria of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine is subsiding, so we need to develop our own logistics to assist those who are at need”.

He concluded: “Thank you to ACN for your courage, for your visits over these last years, for travelling with us in these painful circumstances.

“Thank you for being with us in these difficult moments.”

ACN has supported 600 projects in Ukraine in the last two years, including the construction of 11 centres providing psychological and spiritual support, as well as summer camps for children and heating systems for Church-run institutions.


With thanks to Filipe d’Avillez