Catholic bishop in eastern Ukraine has said “only prayer and divine intervention” can now save his country from an expected Russian invasion, which risks dragging the rest of Europe into the conflict.
“It will be a miracle if Russia doesn’t decide on a total invasion – the American intelligence services and Nato have warned we must be ready for such a scenario at any moment,” said Mgr Jan Sobilo, auxiliary bishop of Kharkiv-Zaporizhia. “If it happens, and Russia attacks Ukraine, this will be a Europe-wide, if not worldwide, problem. Millions of desperate refugees will have no prospect other than escape to the West.”
Speaking in Poland, Bishop Sobilo said a “real war” was now being waged in his diocese, adding that the aim of pro-Russia separatists was being served by the mass exodus of local inhabitants. The bishop said Western aid often failed to reach those in need, while Catholic priests with parishes in rebel-held areas were being prevented from returning by the Ukrainian Army.
“Our pastoral work is now completely paralysed – while in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, almost all priests have been withdrawn because of kidnap threats,” the 53-year-old bishop said. “These areas are under special control, and everyone going there is suspected of acting for Russian special services. Although our priests aren’t under such suspicion, they’re subject to the same procedures as everyone else.”
The crisis in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed rebels have been battling government forces for the past year, was the main topic of the Pope’s June talks with President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly denied direct Russian involvement in the fighting. However, local church leaders have repeatedly accused Moscow of military intervention in the war, in which over 6.400 people were said to have died, and 16,000 been left wounded in a June United Nations report.
In his Lublin speech, Bishop Sobilo said “at this moment, Ukraine’s only defence is prayer – only this can halt an aggression which diplomatic efforts have been unable to restrain.”