UKRAINE: Witnessing to hope amid bombardment

Parishioners taking shelter at a church run by the Pauline Fathers in the Kyiv suburb of Bowary. © Aid to the Church in Need
Parishioners taking shelter at a church run by the Pauline Fathers in the Kyiv suburb of Bowary. © Aid to the Church in Need

Leading clergy in Ukraine have given poignant first-hand accounts of ministering to people terrified for their lives as their country is invaded in a deadly show of firepower.

In testimonies to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), which yesterday (Thurs, 24th Feb) rushed through emergency aid of €1 million (more than £830,000), bishops and priests described the panic that spread after the sudden invasion by Russian forces.

From Kiev’s Bowary suburb, Pauline priest Father Roman Laba reported that at 5am yesterday seven people died and 17 were wounded in a rocket attack, one of seven reported in the capital.

He said: “The first panic is over now – many people came to the parish looking for help and shelter and so we have set up emergency accommodation in the basement of our monastery and the unfinished monastery church. At the moment, we have around 80 people with us.”

From a village near the south-east port of Mariupol, 37 miles from the Russian border, Brother Vasyl told ACN: “Some people have come to us to make their confession for the first time in their life.

“Older and sick people are asking us to go to them and hear their confession. They want to be ready for death if it should come to that.”

He added: “We don’t have time to be frightened. We are staying and helping the people to survive the situation.”

Describing his work, evacuating children from destitute families to countryside in central Ukraine, Brother Vasyl said: “The children are all traumatised because there has been shooting in the area here. We calm them down and say that they need a break.”

His comments came after news of ACN’s €1 million emergency aid programme which will meet the essential needs in four Greek-Catholic exarchates and two Roman-Catholic dioceses covering the eastern regions of Zaporizhya, Donetsk, Odesa and Krym.

In the Kharkiv diocese, the aid will provide heating, lighting, water and food for 57 priests and 54 members of religious communities.

Meantime, ACN’s Ukraine projects manager Magda Kaczmarek reported that the country’s leading bishops have appealed to people not to flee the country.

She said: “[Not leaving the country] is a difficult decision, above all for priests of the Greek-Catholic Church, many of whom are married.

“They are afraid not so much for their lives as for the safety of their children and families.”

Thanking ACN for its aid, Bishop Jan Sobilo, of Saporischschja, in eastern Ukraine, said the charity “always stands with us”.