Bishop of Odessa, Ukraine: ‘In this war both peoples are victims’

FOR THE ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF ODESSA, Stanislav Schyrokoradiuk, one of the main factors in the invasion of Ukraine is the way the Russian population has been misinformed: “We Ukrainians are the victims of the war; the Russian people are the victims of propaganda.” The bishop just took part in an online conference at the international headquarters of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).

According to Bishop Schyrokoradiuk, the war is “not a conflict between our two peoples.” However, people living in Russia have no access to complete information, “therefore many of them support the Russian government.” This adds more fuel to the aggression. “I hope that their eyes will be opened, so that peace can come,” says Schyrokoradiuk.

The bishop emphasizes that his country has no alternative to independence, freedom and orientation towards Europe. “That is our way which we have chosen. We want to keep going this way, even if it is for all of us a way of the Cross.”

The bishop says that his city of Odessa currently finds itself at the “epicenter of the war.” Every day there are air raid sirens and attacks. “So many ruins, so many tears, so much blood in our country.” In the first month of the war hundreds of children were killed or seriously injured. “Children have lost hands or feet in the bombardment; it is terrible!” The port of Odessa is currently blockaded; however, the Ukrainian army has been able to repel the advance of the Russian navy.

Bishop Schyrokoradiuk

The situation is tense in the other two ports of Kherson and Mykolaiv to the north-east. Kherson has been completely occupied, and though the Russian army has pulled out of Mykolaiv, there are daily airstrikes, Bishop Schyrokoradiuk reports.

During the night of March 28-29, a building belonging a Catholic parish was destroyed in an attack, reports the bishop: “Nevertheless, many people in Mykolaiv want to stay, and that is my big concern.” All the priests in the conflicted areas have also stayed. “The priests drive from village to village bringing the people relief goods. They are very committed to their work, although it is very dangerous.”

Since the sea passage is cut off, the Diocese of Odessa-Simferopol has organized its own delivery vehicles, which pick up food and medicine from Lviv in the west, often at the risk of life. Lviv is the central distribution point for goods which arrive from Poland and countries to the west.

Humanitarian provision in the Odessa region has now to a large extent been secured, says the bishop: “We help without regard to religion or nationality – people from 120 nations live in Odessa.” Cooperation with other Christian denominations in helping the suffering population is going very well, including with the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches and the Protestants.

ACN is also an important support. Not only was the foundation the first to offer help, but it has also committed to financing additional vehicles so that provision can be assured for people in remote villages. “We are very moved by the solidarity,” emphasizes Bishop Schyrokoradiuk.

All in all, people in the war area are holding together firmly; there is even optimism, confirms the bishop. “People haven’t lost their sense of humour and try to see the positive side of life. That’s how Odessa is!”

After the beginning of the war in Ukraine, ACN sent an emergency package of $1.5M. Further relief projects are on the way. The support helps priests and religious who work across the whole country with refugees, in orphanages and in homes for the elderly.

—Tobias Lehner