Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, head of the worldwide Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, is seen in an April 2024 photograph with members of the Ukrainian military at the Patriarchal Cathedral complex in Kyiv. The major archbishop and the Ukrainian military officials discussed a range of issues, including Russia's detention of two Ukrainian Catholic priests whose fate remains unknown. OSV News photo/courtesy UGCC

Ukrainian archbishop meets with military officials on missing priests, detained civilians

By  Gina Christian, OSV News
  • April 30, 2024

The head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church recently met with Ukrainian military officials to discuss a range of issues, including Russia's detention of two Ukrainian Catholic priests whose fate remains unknown.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk sat down with Dmytro Usov, secretary for Ukraine's headquarters on the treatment of prisoners of war; members of Usov's team; and Andriy Yusov, spokesman for Ukraine's military intelligence. Also on hand was Father Oleksa Petriv, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church's external relations department.

News of the meeting, which took place at the archbishop's residence in Kyiv, was posted April 25 to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church's website, with several photos showing the officials gathered around a conference table in the archbishop's offices.

Usov thanked Major Archbishop Shevchuk for his extensive support for Ukrainian troops and their families, especially through the church's participation in the Armed Forces of Ukraine's chaplain service, which was formally established in July 2022 by a law adopted in the nation's Verkhovna Rada, or parliament.

As of February 2024, there were close to 740 chaplains (who are not permitted to engage in military activities) in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, representing Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim faith communities.

The meeting also focused on Russia's extensive detention of Ukrainian civilians in occupied areas of Ukraine, especially clergy -- among them, two Ukrainian Greek Catholic priests, Redemptorist Fathers Ivan Levitsky and Bohdan Geleta. Both have been in Russian captivity since November 2022 for refusing to leave their parishioners in Berdyansk, a city in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Major Archbishop Shevchuk said shortly after their capture that information indicated the two priests were being subjected to torture.

Basilian Sister Lucia Murashko, who is based in the Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia, told OSV News in a phone interview earlier in April she had seen a video of Father Levitsky that had been circulated online a few months after his arrest.

"You could not recognize him," she said. "He was absolutely a different person; so thin, and his face was so dark."

According to at least one human rights watch group, Father Levitsky was recently moved to a prison in Russia. Father Geleta is believed to be held in Russian-occupied Crimea. In December 2022, Russian authorities in the occupied Zaporizhzhia region "banned" the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic humanitarian organization Caritas, denouncing all three as Western-based threats to Russia.

Usov asked Major Archbishop Shevchuk to thank Pope Francis, whose Easter message included a call for Russia and Ukraine to conduct an "all for all" exchange of prisoners of war. Such a move was both moral and Christian, said Usov, stressing that Ukraine would strive to effect such an exchange.

Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 -- determined to be a genocide in two joint reports from the New Lines Institute and the Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights -- an unknown number of Ukrainian soldiers, likely numbering in the thousands, have been captured by Russia, with a large number subjected to torture and sexual violence in violation of international humanitarian law.

In addition, at least 7,000 and possibly as many as 25,000 Ukrainian civilians are being held by Russian forces in occupied areas of Ukraine and in Russia, a breach of international humanitarian law, which prohibits such detention. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found that over 91% of such civilians who managed to return had experienced torture, sexual violence and maltreatment.

The International Criminal Court has so far issued four arrest warrants against Russian officials, including two for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his commissioner for children's rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, for the unlawful deportation and transfer of at least 19,546 children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

"Our goal is to free all Ukrainians from captivity," Usov told Major Archbishop Shevchuk.

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