Washington D.C., Mar 15, 2022 / 18:00 pm (CNA).
Ukraine leaders are condemning Russia’s invasion of the country, with the Ukrainian ambassador calling the situation a “full-scale genocide” and an archbishop describing it as a David-and-Goliath fight.
The Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, and Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia made their remarks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., March 15. The two addressed the current crisis, including the humanitarian situation during the ongoing attacks.
Markarova said that while the war between the two countries has existed for eight years — since 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine — the past 20 days represents something new.
She called the current war a “full-scale genocide of the Ukrainian people.”
“We clearly have evidence,” she said, “that Russians are not actually targeting our armed forces. They are targeting civilians. They are killing children, pregnant women. They are killing elderly. This is a clear case of genocide.”
According to the United Nations human rights office, the latest confirmed civilian toll in the country is 691 people killed and 1,143 injured since the invasion began, Reuters reported on Tuesday. The death toll includes 48 children.
Markarova warned that Russia is also targeting Ukraine’s cultural objects, houses of worship, and universities.
“Nothing is off limits to them,” she said. “They are attacking the civilians, they are trying to exterminate Ukrainains.”
Ukrainians are not only defending their homes and country, Markarova stressed, but also Europe, democracy, and freedom.
She called attention to the “humanitarian catastrophe of massive proportions,” with the loss of life, 3 million refugees, and the need for basic necessities, among other things.
She listed three areas where Ukraine still needs help from its partners and friends: more weapons and defense, humanitarian assistance, and sanctions. During the following question-and-answer session, she added that Ukraine also seeks protection from air attacks.
Gudziak, chairman-elect of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and currently serving with the Vatican Dicastery for Communication, added to Markarova’s remarks, calling for armored ambulances, medical supplies, cyber protection, and clear information.
He asked for “massive humanitarian aid” — together with defensive aid.
“What good is it if you feed the stomachs of these children, these women, these people in cities, if their brains are going to be blown out?” he wanted to know.
Ukraine, Gudziak announced, “has won this war morally.”
“There’s now new unity, new purpose in the European Union because of the witness of Ukrainians who are giving their life for their friends,” he said, adding that “Jesus said — John 15:13 — there’s no greater love than when one gives one’s life for his friends.”
“That’s why you’re inspired,” he told the audience. “You’re here and the world is watching and listening because it sees the greatest love. It sees the greatest sacrifice.”
Later, he encouraged, “We can be confident that the Lord will be with the people who love. The Lord supported David against Goliath.”
He highlighted the world’s support of Ukraine, calling it a “miracle,” and asked for prayers.
“Prayer brought down the Soviet Union, not a war, not great policies,” he said.
He also shared why, he said, Ukraine is under attack.
“It’s being attacked because it’s a democracy and it has the disease of freedom of the press, freedom of religion, elections, a vital civic society,” he said. “All of this is a dangerous virus for autocracy. For oligarchic kleptocracy and for what Putin stands for.”
During the following answer-and-question session, Gudziak revealed that he spoke to Pope Francis five weeks ago, before the war began, and asked him to call Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“He said that could be done — like that,” he showed, “with a smile.”
“I think he’s been doing everything that he can behind the scenes,” Gudziak said of the pontiff. “You saw he made an unprecedented step. Pope Francis went to the Russian embassy to lodge a protest and I am convinced that he’s made every effort to speak to Putin and I have some information that he has not gotten responses to his gestures toward Patriarch Kirill.”
On Feb. 25, Pope Francis visited the Russian Embassy to the Holy See, located near the Vatican. Catholic author George Weigel told Catholic World Report that the pope spoke with Putin during the visit. Patriarch Kirill, primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, has expressed support for the invasion of Ukraine.
“But I think that will change,” Gudziak said. “I’m hoping the Russian Church leadership will open up and hear the Gospel: ‘Do not kill.’”
This comes even as the Ukrainian people are not afraid to die, he said.
“We don’t know how to deal with death anymore in many Western societies in the 21st century. We think it’s the abyss, that it’s the end,” he said. “But most civilization is built on a belief of eternal life and the fact that we’re called to live with God. And those that are fearless before death witness to a faith and eternal life.”
He concluded, “I think that is a witness that is deeply touching the world today and it’s deeply touching my heart.”
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