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Ukraine is Europe’s biggest crisis since the Second World War

A Russia-backed rebel crosses himself in front of the cross (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)

The conflict in the Ukraine is Europe’s biggest crisis since the Second World War, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has said.

“The aggression against Ukraine is a challenge for preserving peace in the world which cannot pretend that nothing happens in Eastern Europe,” Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, said in an interview with the Catholic News Agency.

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is an eastern rite Catholic Church in full communion with Rome.

The conflict began last year with Russia’s annexation of Crimea; Russian arms and troops have supported Ukrainian rebels in action which has so far cost the lives of over 6,000 people.

Despite a ceasefire in mid-February, fighting has continued, and Archbishop Shevchuk said: “The cease-fire is being violated. It’s true that the intensity of fighting on the occupied territories has decreased, but it doesn’t mean that the fighting has stopped at all. Every day we receive sad news that someone has been killed or wounded in the result of continued fighting.”

He also said that Russia is continuing to move in weapons and troops: “The most alarming [thing] for the Ukrainian society, however, is the fact that over the last months, hundreds of pieces of heavy weaponry have reached Ukrainian territory from the side of the Russian Federation.”

This includes about 700 tanks, heavy artillery and mobile rocket launchers, plus a “massive accumulation of Russian troops in Ukraine and on the Russian border”.

“These facts make us believe that the Russian side with its heavy military presence in Ukraine is not seeking peace, they don’t rely on the rule of law or on the respect of the international agreements but they abide only to the rule of force. Using the threat of arms, Russia is trying to dictate its will to Ukraine,” he said.

Archbishop Shevchuk said it is very important that the international community, especially the G7 Summit, “considers the war in Ukraine not under the perspective of a local conflict but as a conflict with serious global consequences coming into effect now and even more so in the future”.

He said that “Eastern Europe now faces a humanitarian catastrophe which, considering the territory it might effect, is the greatest crisis since the end of the the Second World War. Let us stop the war together! Let us show solidarity to Ukraine which is a victim of unjustified aggression!”

The archbishop said there was a role for Pope Francis to play in bringing peace to the region. The Catholic bishops of Ukraine and President Petro Poroshenko have officially invited the pope to visit Ukraine. He said a visit by the Pope “would be a very powerful gesture of peace which, empowered by the Holy Spirit, would accomplish what is not possible for the G7”.