Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, pictured in 2021. | Олександр Гаврик via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).
A Ukrainian Catholic leader became visibly emotional on Tuesday as he described the situation in the capital Kyiv, where he and other Catholics have been under Russian bombardment for over a month.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, was speaking via video to participants of an online and in-person meeting organized by the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome on March 29.
“I’m sorry for the tears,” the major archbishop said. “With my people, I feel a duty to be a preacher of hope.”
Starting a few days after Russia’s full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, Shevchuk began to publish daily video messages about the situation in Ukraine.
The major archbishop noted that people had told him the messages were often an important source of information for them about what is happening in Ukraine.
He choked up as he said: “But they were spontaneous, just to let everyone know that I’m alive, that the city of Kyiv is alive.”
“Some people said, I read, that I hid myself in a bunker. This makes me laugh because we don’t have a bunker,” Shevchuk said, adding that maybe some politicians have a bunker. “I have only my cathedral with a crypt.”
The major archbishop said that on the day of the invasion, he and his priests tried to figure out what they could do to help. There were bridges that were closed and many people trying to leave the city were stuck and showed up at the cathedral for shelter.
“We received almost 500 people with empty hands,” he said.
“We lived through these first days together, with fear, with this … invasion, without knowing what to say.”
Shevchuk called it a miracle that he was able to speak at that moment from Kyiv.
“No one understands how we’ve been able to resist for so long. It’s the strength of the Ukrainian people that surprises the world, surprises everyone,” he said.
“Every day we are bombarded. It’s a miracle that we have lights and internet to be in connection with you. It’s a miracle,” he said, with tears in his eyes. “Because every day they launch rockets and missiles to destroy the infrastructure of the cities of Ukraine.”
He noted the grave destruction that Russian forces are causing to the cities, destroying even monuments and churches. Two churches are destroyed every day in Ukraine, he said, and priests are being killed.
“Brothers and sisters,” he underlined, “you know that everything we can have again,” such as homes and economic support. “But the priests they have killed we will never have again.”
Innocent blood is being shed, he said.
Visibly choked up, the major archbishop told the story of one of his priests whose wife gave birth to their child last week in a hospital without lights or heat. The nurses had to light candles at night.
This priest was given an opportunity to flee Ukraine with his family at the start of the war, Shevchuk said, but the priest had told him he would not leave his people.
“Our parishes have become humanitarian hubs,” he explained, noting that the church spaces have been opened up to welcome people, provide help, and give counsel.
“What does the Church do? The Church prays, welcomes,” and distributes goods, he said.
Shevchuk thanked Pope Francis for the March 25 consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, for which he said both Catholics and Orthodox were grateful.
The presence of the Immaculate Conception among us is “very important” for Ukrainians, he said, who are surviving this moment only through supernatural force.
“There is an apocalyptic clash between good and evil happening before our eyes. We are surviving only by a continuous miracle,” he stated.
In his daily video message on March 29, Major Archbishop Shevchuk referred to reports that residents of besieged Ukrainian cities were being forcibly deported to Russia.
He said that the reported practice echoed the population transfers that took place under the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.
“Various voices full of weeping and despair appeal to me, in particular, from those who are forcibly deported from Ukrainian soil,” Shevchuk said.
“We have heard about such deportations of residents of the Mariupol suburbs and the occupied quarters of this city. But the same is happening in cities such as Maryanka, Volnovakha, and other cities and villages of Donbas. The cities and villages that have become ghost towns.”
He went on: “People are forcibly deported to Russia, their passports are confiscated, they are issued temporary documents and taken to the island of Sakhalin in the far east of Russia, where they are not allowed to leave this designated place of exile for two years.”
“We see that just as entire nations were deported from their lands under Stalin, the same is being repeated today on Ukrainian soil.”
“I call on the whole world to stand up for our Ukrainian people in the ways that you can, so that Ukrainians can live on their native Ukrainian land. And so that no one might drive them into captivity as they have been for centuries.”