Ukrainian clergy staying to help

Latin-rite Bishop Pavlo Honcharuk of Kharkiv-Zaporiyia (right) and Bishop Mytrofan from Kharkiv-Bohodukhovsk (Orthodox Church of Ukraine) (left) visiting an injured man.(Photo: Aid to the Church in Need)

Clergy in Ukraine are doing what they can to help their people as Russia bears down on key cities, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes.

Bishop Stanislav Shyrokoradiuk, the Latin-rite Bishop of Odessa, a port city that has been under Russian bombardments from the air and sea, told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) he has no plans to leave.

"[W]e are living in the here and now, and the situation is critical. We will remain here, and we ask for your prayers," he said. 

Brother Vasyl is from a village near the south-east port of Mariupol, 37 miles from the Russian border, and has been helping children from destitute families evacuate to the countryside in central Ukraine.

"We don't have time to be frightened. We are staying and helping the people to survive the situation," he said. 

ACN's Ukraine projects manager Magda Kaczmarek said that leading bishops in Ukraine have appealed to people not to flee the country.

She said: "[Not leaving the country] is a difficult decision, above all for priests of the Greek-Catholic Church, many of whom are married.

"They are afraid not so much for their lives as for the safety of their children and families."

ACN has pledged to send €1 million (over £830,000) in immediate emergency aid to Ukraine. Some of that aid will go towards providing heating, lighting, water and food for 57 priests and 54 members of religious communities in hard-hit Kharkiv.

A sign which reads 'Shelter' points to a refuge run by the Pauline Fathers in the Kyiv suburb of Bowary.(Photo: Aid to the Church in Need)

The UN estimates that over 520,000 people have now fled the war, crossing into neighbouring Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova.

Bishop Pavlo Honcharuk, the Latin-rite Bishop of Kharkiv-Zaporiyia, has been sheltering in a bunker in Kharkiv with an Orthodox priest.

Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Honcharuk said the city was under "constant bombardment".

He praised Ukrainians for the way in which they have come together in recent days.

"I wish for this war to end as quickly as possible. But, while evil has shown itself to be so strong, this has also exposed a lot of good," he said.

"In a way, the evil we are experiencing also squeezes the good juice from the grape, and that good juice is our compassion, mutual support, and love. It shows our true faces."

Lviv, in the west of Ukraine, has so far evaded the fighting but war has nonetheless come to its doorstep, with the city's train station now a transit hub for thousands of women and children desperately hoping to catch a train to safety in nearby Poland.

Sister Natalia, a member of the Greek-Catholic order of the Sacred Family in Lviv, told ACN that the nuns are doing what they can to help those who have poured into the city.

"Here, we have been helping the displaced, supplying air-raid bunkers, and welcoming people, especially women and children. Most then head abroad, but here they have the opportunity to rest with us. And we pray together," she said. 

She added, "Thanks to the help of the world, Ukraine resists, and we believe it will survive."