A Ukrainian serviceman fires a mortar toward Russian troops. OSV News photo/Inna Varenytsia, Reuters

Ukraine has ‘no choice but to defend’ itself: bishops

By  Gina Christian, OSV News
  • March 13, 2024

Ukraine’s Greek Catholic bishops, led by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, have said their nation will continue to fight Russian aggression, “notwithstanding the suggestions for (the) need for negotiations coming from representatives of different countries, including the Holy Father himself.”

“Ukrainians will continue to defend freedom and dignity to achieve a peace that is just,” said the permanent synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in a March 10 statement, issued hours after the synod had concluded a weeklong series of meetings in the U.S. with clergy, faithful and U.S government officials.

As Russia continues to intensify its attacks, “Ukrainians will continue to defend themselves,” since “they feel they have no choice,” said the bishops. “They believe in freedom and God-given human dignity. They believe in truth, God’s truth. They are convinced that God’s truth will prevail.”

The synod’s statement followed a recent interview Pope Francis gave in which he urged parties to the war in Ukraine “not be ashamed to negotiate before things get worse.”

In the interview, a portion of which was released March 9 ahead of the full March 20 airing, the Pope, who discussed both Russia’s war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war, told Buccella that “the word ‘negotiate’ is a courageous word.”

“When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, it is necessary to have the courage to negotiate,” he said. “You may feel ashamed, but with how many deaths will it end? Negotiate in time; look for some country that can mediate. Today, for example in the war in Ukraine, there are many who want to mediate. Turkey has offered itself for this. And others.”

The Pope’s comments quickly sparked international backlash, prompting Holy See Press Office director Matteo Bruni to issue a March 9 clarification of the remarks.

Bruni said that “the Pope picked up the image of the white flag, proposed by the interviewer, to indicate a cessation of hostilities, a truce reached with the courage of negotiation. His hope is for a diplomatic solution for a just and lasting peace.”

The Ukrainian Catholic bishops said they wished “to reflect not upon the Pope’s statement but upon the point of view of the victims of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” since “it is important to understand the position of most Ukrainians.

“Ukrainians cannot surrender because surrender means death,” said the bishops. “The intentions of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Russia are clear and explicit.”

Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See, Andrii Yurash, echoed that sentiment.

“For us, it’s not a matter of a victory — it’s just a matter of the survival of our existence as a nation, as a country,” he told OSV News.

The bishops stressed that along with Putin, “70 per cent of the Russian population support the genocidal war against Ukraine, as does Patriarch Kirill and the Russian Orthodox Church.”

The bishops pointed to sites of mass atrocities by Russian forces in Ukraine, such as “Bucha, Irpin, Borodianka, Izium, and … other places occupied by Russian forces,” as evidence of “the clear purpose of this war: to eliminate Ukraine and Ukrainians.”

Religious persecution has accompanied Russian brutality in Ukraine, the bishops stressed.

In December 2023, Yevgeny Balitsky, the Kremlin-installed head of the occupied Zaporizhzhia’s military-civil administration, issued an order banning the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Knights of Columbus and Caritas, the official humanitarian arm of the worldwide Catholic Church. Balitsky accused all three entities of working on behalf of Western nations against Russia. Reports indicate priests are being kidnapped and held by Russian forces.

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