World churches delegation to Ukraine says Moscow-aligned church crucial in peace process

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks to journalists in Lviv on October 3, 2014.

Ukraine's Orthodox Church aligned with the Moscow Patriarchate having congregations on both sides of the conflict involving pro-Russian separatists has a key peace-making potential says a visiting delegation of global churches.

A World Council of Churches delegation led by its general secretary Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit visited Ukraine from March 17 to 20 and the visit was facilitated through the UOC.

"As the majority church in Ukraine...and having officially declared and reiterated its commitment to the territorial integrity and unity of Ukraine, the UOC has a special capacity and leadership responsibility in this regard," said the WCC in a statement.

The 10-person delegation organized by the WCC reported that "the delegation has heard...to inform the international community about the situation in Ukraine."

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It said it has been urged "to promote a more adequate humanitarian response to the human suffering resulting from the conflict, and to support and strengthen the efforts of the churches and faith communities of Ukraine for justice and peace."

A United Nations report on March 2 said there are reliable indications of an ongoing influx of heavy and sophisticated weaponry to armed groups in eastern Ukraine comprising foreign fighters, including from Russia.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued its 9th report March 2 on the situation of human rights in Ukraine based covering the period from Dec. 1 to Feb. 15.

It said more than 6,000 people have been killed in the conflict in eastern Ukraine since it erupted in April 2014.

MASSIVE OUTFLOW OF REFUGEES

The fighting has also sparked a massive outflow of refugees and displaced persons.

The report said Ukraine's Ministry of Social Policy was counting some 980,000 people as currently internally displaced.

At the same time more than 600,000 Ukrainians have fled the country, seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, particularly the Russian Federation, but also Belarus, Moldova, Poland, Hungary and Romania, since February 2014.

The report presented unresolved and emerging human rights challenges in the eastern regions of Ukraine and in Crimea as well as other parts of the country and it includes attacks against religious minorities.

The report said, "Credible reports indicate a continuing influx of heavy and sophisticated weaponry to armed groups in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as foreign fighters, including from the Russian Federation."

The WCC delegation that went to Ukraine comprised high-level representatives from its global fellowship of churches.

"Delegation members had the opportunity to visit a displaced persons' shelter in Kiev and were able to encounter people who had been obliged to flee from the fighting," said the WCC statement.

"Delegation members were also able to travel close to the conflict zone, near Lisichansk [in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine], and to witness for themselves the destruction and disruption resulting from the crisis.

"The delegation also heard of the central role being played by churches in providing humanitarian aid in the affected regions, though the unmet needs still remain very great."

The WCC group met with representatives of the UOC and the All Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations (AUCCRO), a group encompassing almost every church tradition in Ukraine as well as the Muslim and Jewish communities.

Over the past year, as the conflict between Ukraine and Russia intensified, religion has emerged as a proxy for the political struggle.

The Kyiv Patriarchate has supported the Westward-oriented outlook of the Euromaidan movement.

At the same time Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian church leaders, have appropriated Orthodox religious motifs in honing a messianic message designed to help justify Russia's Crimean land grab, eurasianet.org reported.

Members of the delegation included Tveit; Conference of European Churches president Bishop Christopher Hill; the WCC president for Europe, Archbishop emeritus Anders Wejryd; Moderator of the General Synod of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, Rev. Karin van den Broeke; and a vice-moderator of the WCC central committee, Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima.

(Photo: Ecumenical News / Peter Kenny)World Council of Churches general secretary, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, addresses journalists on November 7, 2013 during a media conference at the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan, South Korea.
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