Presentation on the current situation in Ukraine to Kirche in Not

May 27, 2015

The war in Ukraine, its humanitarian consequences, on the background of lagging social and government reforms and change are part of a new emerging reality in Ukraine. The vocation of the Church does not change with events, but changing realities effect how we live this vocation to share the message of God’s love and to provide spiritual care and guidance to our faithful and to the needy and vulnerable. Through all the events of the last two years, I can state that the conceptualization of what Church means in society was transformed in Ukraine.

Today – Ukraine faces aggression and war on its eastern territory and the resulting humanitarian crisis and psychological traumas (PTSD), a vicious informational war, lagging and painful reforms, economic recession and overall weariness. All these have contributed to a complicated pastoral situation, and have caused us to intensify our ministry in many areas. The Church is rediscovering an intensity of its voice and vocation as the “Church that serves.”

Our Church serves by providing humanitarian aid and counseling. To illustrate, I’d like to start with an example: Dariya Bilechko and her 3 year old daughter fled their home in Vuhlehirsk, after their village had been shelled for 2 weeks straight. They still suffer elements of post trauma disorder, but it turns out that they fled just in time. Soon after, the Ukrainian forces, no longer able to hold their position in the town had to retreat, and the village was leveled by Russian forces 2 weeks later. Only 3,000/10,000 people remain in this village, now located in the occupied territories. Dariya and her daughter moved to a region near the Khakiv oblast, near the Sviatohirsk monastery. Dariya and her daughter are 2 of 5000 displaced persons living in this rural area. Identified as a vulnerable target group, Dariya received financial assistance from Caritas to help her get through the winter, and purchase necessities.

The practical help offered by Caritas was made possible, because in the last half year Caritas opened 5 new offices in Eastern Ukraine, while continuing to maintain its services in Western Ukraine, Odessa and Kyiv. Now the second largest relief organization working in the region (after the Red Cross), they have been able to help up to 50 000 displaced persons with a similar type of assistance. However, these figures still fall short of the sheer magnitude of needs. According to official UN statistics, there are at least 1.2 million internally displaced persons in Ukraine - a quarter of which are children. The majority of them are located in the regions closest to the conflict zone. In addition to providing for their physical survival assistance, there is a great need for psychological and spiritual assistance, especially for the children, many of whom experienced bombing and explosions first hand. However, if the conflict continues into populated cities like Mariupol, the number of displaced persons could be increased by 500 000.

Our chaplaincy ministry has been another emergency ministry which has grown over the course of the last two years. The support we had from KIN for the development of military chaplains in previous years laid the foundation for the growth of the ministry. The number of chaplains has grown from 61 chaplains to 96. Most chaplains, have served 3-4 rotations up to 45 days in the ATO region, leaving behind their wife and children.

Our Church serves by helping to build parish communities and by keeping a sense of solidarity in these difficult times. In 2011, the Synod approved a new program for the Church – “Vibrant parishes – the place for meeting the living Christ.” The program was the end of a 3 year process of reflection and evaluation of present Church’s situation and identifying priorities for the future. The program was launched in 2012, and is designed to provide inspiration, experience sharing between parishes and eparchies, and also practical guidelines and materials for parish community development. In the course of the project we have developed new channels of communication between eparchies and priests. We are making good use of this new network to communicate information and coordinate our pastoral response.

Our Church that serves by carrying a message of hope and forgiveness. As Fr. Tykhon Kulbaka, our Donetsk priest who was held in captivity and tortured for 12 day shares – we have to work on ourselves spiritually, that having been set free from a real prison or real conflict, that we do not end up in the prison of hatred.

Where are our challenges and where do we need help? I would say that at this point, our main challenge is to keep the fabric of the Church, our growth and capacity, intact and ready to serve.

This means:
·                                 continuing to build organizational infrastructure, keeping communication and networking at our full capacity, and coordinating church initiatives specifically answering the crisis needs; 
·                                 mobility for priests in Eastern Ukraine and for our chaplains;
·                                 formation and training for leaders (priests, religious, chaplains, catechists, youth);
·                                 programs and materials strengthening parish communities; fostering communication by carrying the message of the Good news in all situations;
·                                 continuing to build physical infrastructure, where it is still lacking (churches, pastoral training centers, monastic and retreat houses);
·                                 programs that facilitate ministry to children and youth.

I think that I speak for all when I say that we have experienced the love and care of the Kirche in Not staff members and donors for many years. This “communion” you invited us into, is an important element of our strength in the face of adversity.

His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk,
Patriarch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church
May 11, 2015


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