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Ukraine: the Nuncio Claudio Gugerotti, “the silence of the international community is the first martyrdom”

On February 14-15 the Apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine, Monsignor Claudio Gugerotti, returned to visit the eastern region of the Country. The population is on its last legs, the bombings never ceased despite the Minsk Agreements. “A teacher broke out in tears in front of me and of her pupils as she asked me to “Please tell the Pope to do everything possible to free us from this absurd, useless war.” They are the so-called “frozen conflicts”. Europe and the great world powers prefer to ignore them. The only person who has managed to break the wall of silence and indifference is Pope Francis with a special collection initiative for Ukraine, thanks to which 16 million euro were donated to the local population victim of the war.

“Doomed to die in silence, amidst general indifference.” Monsignor Claudio Gugerotti, Apostolic Nuncio in Ukraine, doesn’t beat around the bush to describe the situation in the eastern region of the Country where despite the Minsk Agreements, despite the public stands and promises, the armed conflict continues uninterrupted. The Nuncio visited the region on February 14-15. In particular, he visited the city of Avdiyivka where massive bombings at the end of January caused dozens of deaths, destruction, shortage of water and electricity, and thus household heating failure. The Nuncio gave a picture of damaged houses and a partly deserted city owing to the evacuation of local inhabitants.

“Every night we hear the sound of the bombing. There is no stability, it’s a never-ending situation.”

In Sviatohirsk you met with displaced children. What were their conditions? The children are apparently serene. The places where they are being hosted are distant from the area of the conflict. They keep each other company. But traumas emerge in other circumstances, like when they return with their families and they’re not involved in the community. Thus we still don’t know the true impact of the trauma at psychological level. There is another aspect that is equally serious and it consists in the fact that many adults are in a state of shock. They have been in this situation of instability for over two years and they can no longer bear it. People have almost lost the strength to react. Families have been evacuated to different areas and were divided. In addition, a high number of people can’t leave their homes either because they lack the means, because they are isolated, or because they are sick and old… They live on a piece of bread and tea with temperatures that drop to 16-17 degrees Celsius below zero.

A mortality of such proportions in Europe is a scandal for everyone’s consciousness.

For example, a teacher broke out in tears in front of me and in front of her pupils as she asked me to “Please tell the Pope to do everything possible to free us from this absurd, useless war.”

What did you tell her?
I reassured her that as European Catholics we pray for them and we will not abandon them. I told her that our memory is with them and that we are doing our utmost to support the aids personally promoted by the Pope for them. They feel abandoned; they feel that nobody cares.

In your opinion, why is so little attention devoted to the situation in Ukraine?
One of the reasons is that unfortunately there are many outbreaks of violence worldwide. And the second reason is that probably it’s not convenient to talk about it.

For who isn’t it convenient? And why?
It isn’t convenient for the world powers engaged in the war. To a certain extent frozen conflicts are viewed as everyone’s defeat and nobody can claim victory. Hence not bringing them to the public opinion’s attention is considered a preferential option. But this people’s first martyrdom is the silence of the international community, which has been broken, to a certain extent, thanks to the Holy Father’s initiative.

Could you tell us more about it?
It’s the great collection held in April last year throughout Europe to meet these people’s needs.

The funds collected so far amount to 16 million euro, 5 of which have been personally donated by the Pope.

A special Committee chaired by Bishop Jan Sobilo is tasked with distributing the funds on the basis of rigorous documentation we have required. A package of 200 thousand euro will provide immediate relief to the population following the recent emergency situation in the area.

How will it be employed?
A part of the sum consists in vouchers for families with children, enabling them to access basic food and medical necessities. Another part will be used for psychological and pedagogic assistance to children, to help them overcome severe traumas, while another portion of the funds will be used to repair damaged buildings, schools in particular.

While Europe is indifferent, the Pope is closely following the situation. How is this done? What does he tell you?

He follows it constantly. We are in touch; we correspond, also via mail. He is devoted to this humanitarian effort and he wants to be sure that it will come to fruition. He is also worried because he wants to see this war come to an end.

The parties involved in this conflict are extremely complex, unfathomable and stubborn, which makes it very hard even only to promote the opening of a dialogue process.

So what can be done?
First of all there should be mutual openness. Second, international powers and organizations must take the problem seriously. Generic condemnations are not enough. Third, decisions and agreements must entail the adoption of specific tools for their implementation. For example, according to OSCE, in the latest clashes both warring parties made use of weapons that had been banned under the Minsk Agreements. It’s useless to make an agreement if it’s broken the next day.



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