In Ukraine, 'people are praying and weeping--because they feel utterly helpless'
Members of religious orders in their white habits have to be especially careful to avoid becoming convenient sniper targets.
By Reinhard Backes
MARIUPOL (Ukraine)—Officially, there is a
truce between the pro-Russian separatists, based around Donetsk and Lugansk,
and the Ukrainian army. That at least was the agreement between the governments
in Kiev and Moscow, prodded on by international mediation. But in this city on
the Sea of Azov, reality is very different.
"We are woken up at night by explosions, and the
fighting is continuing, despite the truce. The people here feel utterly
helpless; they are coming into the churches, praying and weeping." Those are
the words of Father Leonard Aduszkiewicz,
a Polish priest of the Order of St. Paul the First Hermit, in an
interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
He wants the story to be told: "Perhaps people
will believe a priest who has seen and witnessed for himself just what is
really going on here."
Mariupol is less than 30 miles from the Russian border
and is home to around half a million people. Before the current crisis began
almost everything produced here was exported to Russia. Now the gates of the
steelworks and factories are closed, and people no longer have any work. Instead
there is fighting. Apparently, Russian separatists want to capture the city in
order to create a corridor connecting the region to the Crimean peninsula,
which was annexed by Russia just a few months ago.
"We are pastors, and we are concerned for the
people here, both civilians and soldiers. We hear confessions, celebrate Holy
Mass, hand out food, clothing and medicines,” says Father Aduszkiewicz, who
with fellow Paulist Father Pavel Tomaszewski also ministers to Ukrainian
soldiers, who are forced to live in very difficult circumstances. "They
are badly equipped and living in trenches,” Father Tomaszewksi explains; “They
come to confession, seeking spiritual support, and also ask us to make contact
with their family members and to send pictures of them to their mothers and
The war is conducted with the utmost ferocity. Funerals
are due to take place for 55 young soldiers whose bodies can no longer be identified
with certainty because they are so badly mutilated. The funeral service will be
attended by Greek-Catholic priests, Orthodox priests of the Kiev Patriarchate
as well as Protestant pastors. Father Aduszkiewicz adds, "Christians are
praying for peace. Around a thousand people took part in an ecumenical march
for peace in Mariupol. Everybody wants to see an end to the fighting."
The people in Mariupol are troubled and frightened, avoiding
certain areas of the city for fear of snipers. Members of religious orders in
their white habits have to be especially careful to avoid becoming convenient
sniper targets. They only use their cars for distributing aid parcels, because
they are fearful that the vehicles might otherwise be confiscated. But only
limited supplies are getting through to the city. With winter fast approaching,
locals are facing the prospect of the rationing of electricity and gas—Russia
has already cut off the supply of gas.
ACN photo: Father Aduszkiewicz