Help stop war in Ukraine, aid children in need, says church leader

IMAGE: CNS photo/Alexander Ermochenko,

By Carol Glatz

ROME (CNS) — The head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church
called on the international community to “stop the aggressor” in
Ukraine’s “forgotten conflict” and help the 1 million children in
need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

“I am appealing to the international community to
defend Ukrainian children, victims of war, keeping in mind that in our country
we are experiencing a humanitarian emergency in Europe that has not been
experienced since the Second World War,” said Archbishop Sviatoslav
Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church.

Despite efforts the past three years, a “stable
cease-fire” has never been achieved, “therefore, we ask international
organizations to continue diplomatic approaches to stop the aggressor and end
the war so that true peace can be reached,” he said in a written statement
received by Catholic News Service Feb. 22.

The archbishop made the appeal after UNICEF released
report Feb. 17 saying that 1 million children in Ukraine were in urgent need of
humanitarian aid — nearly double the number of kids in need the same time last

The increased numbers were due to the ongoing fighting
and deteriorating economic situation of families, loss of housing and reduced
access to health care and education, the report said. One in five schools in
eastern Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed.

“Hundreds of daily cease-fire violations put
children’s physical safety and psychological well-being at risk,” the
UNICEF report said. Thousands of children face the danger of landmines and
unexploded ordinance as well as active shelling in their neighborhoods, it

“Teachers, psychologists and parents report signs of
severe psychosocial distress among children including nightmares, aggression,
social withdrawal and panic triggered by loud noises,” it said.

In his appeal, Archbishop Shevchuk said the Catholic
Church has a moral obligation to speak up for the voiceless, particularly the

“The increasingly tragic situation of the nation —
there are 1.7 million people displaced — remains invisible in the eyes of the
general public,” he said. Such tragedy, he said, “cannot and must not
remain invisible.”

Meanwhile, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer
of the Holy See to the United Nations, told the U.N. Security Council during an
open debate Feb. 21 that “all necessary steps should be taken to enforce
the cease-fire and to implement the measures agreed upon” for Ukraine while
respecting basic human rights and international laws.

All efforts must be made to end “this unresolved
conflict and to find a political solution through dialogue and
negotiation,” he said. It is also “the obligation of states to
refrain from actions that destabilize neighboring countries and work together
to create the necessary conditions for peace and reconciliation.”

In March 2014, Russia annexed the Crimea region of
Ukraine, and about a month later, fighting began along Ukraine’s eastern
border. Russian-speaking separatists with support from the Russian government
and its troops have been battling Ukrainian forces.

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