We publish below the unabridged text of an appeal sent to SIR news agency by His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyč, for the end of the war in Ukraine and the protection of children.
As Eastern Ukraine enters its fourth year of conflict in the apparent indifference of the international community, the data released by UNICEF on 18 February give shape and numbers to a humanitarian crisis in the heart of the European continent which cannot, and should not, remain invisible.
The figures give cause for thought. According to the UN agency, at least 1 million Ukrainian children are in need of humanitarian assistance, more than double the number compared to a year earlier, when UNICEF estimated that 420,000 children were in need of aid.
Another year of conflict has led to more families losing their homes, social benefits and access to healthcare due to the continuous violations of the “ceasefire”. Ukrainian children are no longer guaranteed access to education: over 740 schools have been destroyed in Eastern Ukraine, that is, 1 school in 5. The lives of Ukrainian children are always at risk: every year our Church organises several initiatives to provide assistance, rehabilitation and care with the help of children, victims of war. Indeed, the figures from UNICEF indicate that at least 19,000 children face constant danger from landmines and other unexploded ordnance and another 12,000 live in communities shelled at least once a month.
Yet the conflict in Ukraine remains a forgotten conflict. The increasingly dire situation in the country – with 1.7 million people displaced – remains invisible to the eyes of public opinion.
As a Church, we have the moral obligation to give voice to those who have no voice, to make the cry of these innocent people heard and to defend their right to a childhood free from injustice and violence. UNICEF’s figures show a truth that is unfortunately common to all conflicts. It is the weakest and the smallest who are most affected by the consequences. It is the weakest and the smallest who are more likely to experience psychological traumas and wounds that risk remaining open.
Unfortunately, despite the efforts of the international community, over the last three years, a stable ceasefire could not be reached in Ukraine. This has caused much suffering to the people of Ukraine, especially among children. Therefore, we call on international organisations to continue their diplomatic efforts to stop the aggressor and put an end to the war until a real peace is reached.
I call on the international community to protect Ukrainian children, victims of war, bearing in mind that we are facing a humanitarian crisis in Europe that has not been seen since the Second World War.