Catholic bishop in Eastern Ukraine says situation in 'war zones is catastrophic'

(Photo: REUTERS / Antonio Bronic)A damaged dome is seen in the yard of an orthodox church damaged by recent shelling in Kuibyshevski district in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, November 25, 2014. Three civilians were killed and eight were injured during shelling in Donetsk.

Catholic Bishop Stanislav Shyrokoradiuk of Kharkiv-Zaporizha says the situation in Eastern Ukraine is dramatic with death and hunger in the war zone near Russia.

Bishop Shyrokoradiuk's diocese encompasses almost the entire eastern part of Ukraine, including areas no longer under the control of the government in Kiev, the international Catholic  charity Aid to the Church in Need reports.

"The situation in the war zones is catastrophic. There is hunger. More than 80 people have already died of it in Luhansk and Donetsk," said the bishop who is also the director of Caritas Ukraine.

In Eastern Ukraine forces from Kiev are fighting against pro-Russian separatists.

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Since the fighting began early in 2014 relations between Ukraine and Russia have been more hostile than at any time since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union.

He spoke about the situation in a talk with employees from Aid to the Church in Need.

Bishop Shyrokoradiuk said more than 18 million people live in his diocese, including some 60,000 Roman Catholics.

"We are a missionary Church," he said. "Twenty years ago, we didn't have a single parish; today there are more than 50. The faithful have Ukrainian, Polish, Russian as well as Vietnamese roots."

Most of the Christians in Ukraine and Eastern Ukraine are Orthodox Christians.

The parochial work of the diocese is focused on pastoral as well as social and humanitarian tasks: "We receive shipments of relief supplies and medicine from Western Europe. We need this help, Christian solidarity, but also political aid," said Bishop Shyrokoradiuk.

He is worried about the rising tide of refugees from the war zones, estimating there are more than 20,000 in Kharkiv at this time.

"We are trying to help where we can. Just a few weeks ago, we were at least able to give 300 pairs of shoes to children."

But Bishop Shyrokoradiuk's influence is limited. To his knowledge, the aid intended for people in the self-proclaimed People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk does not reach those in need.

In western Ukraine, Bishop Vitaliy Skomarovsky of Lutsk also sees the consequences of the battles in the East.

SOLDIERS IN CEMETRY

"The war may seem far away. But in reality, many young men from the western part of the country have joined the war. Just recently, a row of fir trees was felled in the cemetery of Lutsk to bury 13 young soldiers."

Other cities have also buried soldiers killed in the line of duty.

According to Bishop Skomarovsky, the Church is taking care of the bereaved as well as those families whose fathers have gone East as soldiers.

"The war is ever-present. We notice that financial resources are being used for it; many things in the social sector have been stopped. However, people are now doing a lot more on their own initiative, solidarity is growing among the people," Bishop Skomarovsky said.

Warm clothing, among other things, has been collected because many soldiers in the East are inadequately equipped and feel as though they have been abandoned.

With 35 parishes and 25,000 faithful, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lutsk is the smallest in Ukraine.

It was part of the Polish territory of Volhynia until World War II. Ukrainian nationalists carried out a number of massacres of the predominantly Polish population in the region, beginning in mid-July 1943.

These were tolerated by the German occupying force. More than 50,000 people were killed.

As a result of the massacres, many Catholic parishes are still deserted.

Bishop Skomarovsky noted, "A very, very large number of people participated in the Memorial Mass held at the cemetery of Skirche on 11 July 2014. However, I don't feel any tension among the new young generation."

In Ukraine, which is populated by many different demographic groups, this is a sign of hope of reconciliation.

Bishop Shyrokoradiuk of Kharkiv-Zaporizha said, "We hope for peace because many people are praying for it."

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