As war between Russia and Ukraine entered its 39th day with no signs of de-escalation, on Sunday, Churches and Christians in Britain and Ireland gathered again in ecumenical prayer for peace and for all those affected by the conflict.
The main demonstration was held in London in front of the Ukrainian Embassy. The event was attended, amongst others, by Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski of the Greek Catholic Eparchy of the Holy Family, who had also participated in another prayer gathering led in Trafalgar Square, on March 5, by Archbishop Gugerotti, Apostolic Nuncio to the United Kingdom.
It took place as news began to seep out about mass executions of civilians allegedly committed by Russian troops in the Kyiv suburb town of Bucha. Images reported by various media outlets, after Bucha was retaken by Ukrainians forces, showed a mass grave with hundreds of corpses and a number of dead civilians lying in the streets – some with their hands tied – who appeared to have been shot dead at close range.
Ukrainian authorities have opened an investigation and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the Russian military had deliberately killed civilians in the town. For his part, President Volodimir Zelensky said that more atrocities against civilians may be revealed if Russian forces are driven out of other occupied areas.
The news has sparked shock and worldwide condemnation, and is likely to lead to more sanctions against Russia, who denies the Ukrainian allegations.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) acting general secretary Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca expressed abhorrence at these reported atrocities, and called for full investigation. “War is a context inherently conducive to such brutality, which underlines the need for systems of legal accountability to prosecute perpetrators, in order to curb the worst in humanity,” said Sauca. “Moreover, it underscores the urgent necessity of bringing this terrible conflict to an immediate end, for the sake of preventing yet more death, injury and destruction of communities.”
Commenting on the news, the Major Archbishop Svjatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev remarked that Europe only saw such scenes in the liberation from the Nazi. “Today Ukraine is seeing this, and it is very important that the whole world sees and hears it”, he said.
[Literally a few tens of kilometers from the centre of Kyiv, in the liberated towns, we see horrific war crimes. Mass graves with hundreds of lifeless bodies. Executed people lying in the streets, sometimes with tied hands. Naked bodies of women which they did not have time to burn ].
“The very fact of being able to see the Russian army trying to take looted property out of Ukraine by the truckloads is heart-breaking”, he added.
In his daily video message from Kyiv, the head of the Grek Catholic Church in Ukraine also, once again, expressed his gratitude to all those who are praying with Ukrainians in different parts of the globe.
He especially thanked the Association of Marian Shrines of Europe who, last week, sent a strongly worded letter to Russian President Vladimir Pution condemning the war and asking him to stop the bloodshed in Ukraine.
All along his Apostolic Journey to Malta from 2-3 April, Pope Francis too reiterated his heartfelt call for an immediate end of the war which he once again termed as “sacrilegious”. At the press conference during his flight back to Rome he was asked about the feasibility of him visiting Kyiv, also in light of the latest developments. Pope Francis replied that he was “willing to do whatever needs to be done”, stating that war is always “inhuman” and an expression of what he called “the spirit of Cain”.
Russia is presently under the scrutiny of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) following an application filed by Ukraine on February 26. On March 16, 2022, the ICJ ordered Russia to immediately suspend its military operations in the country.