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Bishop of Odesa: “In this war both nations are victims”

For the Roman Catholic Bishop of Odesa, Stanislav Schyrokoradiuk, one of the main reasons for the invasion of Ukraine is the way the Russian population has been misinformed: “We Ukrainians are the victims of the war; the Russian people are the victims of propaganda.” Last Tuesday, the bishop took part in an online conference at the international headquarters of the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). (Cover photo: contemplative religious sisters had also to go in antibomb shelter). 

According to Bishop Schyrokoradiuk, the war is “not a conflict between our two peoples”. However, people living in Russia have no access to complete information, “therefore many of them support the Russian government.” This adds more fuel to the aggression. “I hope that their eyes will be opened, so that peace can come,” says Schyrokoradiuk.

“Continue on the path of freedom, even if it is for all of us a path of the Cross”

With regard to the future for Ukraine, the bishop emphasizes that his country has no alternative to independence, freedom and orientation towards Europe. “This is our path, the one we have chosen. We want to continue on this way, even if it is a way of the Cross for all of us.”

The bishop says that his city of Odessa currently finds itself at the “epicentre of the war”. Every day there are air raid sirens and attacks. “So many ruins, so many tears, so much blood in our country.” In the first month of the war, hundreds of children were killed or seriously injured. “Children have lost hands or feet in the bombing attacks; it’s terrible!” The port of Odesa is currently blockaded; however, the Ukrainian army has been able to repel the advance of the Russian navy.

Church buildings also destroyed

The situation is also tense in the other two ports of Kherson and Mykolaiv to the northeast. Kherson has been completely occupied, and although the Russian army is pulling out of Mykolaiv, there are daily airstrikes.

During the night of March 28 to 29, a building belonging to the Catholic parish was also destroyed in an attack, reports the bishop: “Nevertheless, many people in Mykolaiv want to stay, and that is my big concern.” All the priests in the conflicted areas have also stayed. “The priests go from village to village, bringing the people relief. They are very committed to their work, although it is very dangerous.”

Distribution of food in Odessa.

Humanitarian Aid More or Less Assured

Since the sea passage is cut off, the Diocese of Odesa-Simferopol has organized its transport, which picks up food and medicine from Lviv in the West, often at great danger to the drivers. Lviv is the central distribution point for goods which arrive from Poland and western countries.

Humanitarian aid in the Odessa region has now to a large extent been secured, says the bishop: “We help without regard to religion or nationality – people from 120 nations live in Odesa.” Cooperation with other Christian denominations in helping the suffering population is going very well, including with the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches and the Protestants.

Virtual meeting during a meeting at the ACN International headquarters.

ACN is also an important support. Not only was the charity the first to offer help, but it has also committed to financing further vehicles so that supplies can be assured for people in remote villages. “We are very moved by the solidarity,” emphasizes Bishop Schyrokoradiuk.

All in all, people in the war area are holding together very strongly; there is even optimism, confirms the bishop. “People haven’t lost their sense of humour and try to see the positive side of life. That’s how Odesa is!”

At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, ACN organized emergency aid in the amount of $1.5 million. More aid is on the way. The support helps priests and religious who work throughout the country in parishes with refugees, in orphanages and homes for the elderly.

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