In the wake of a Russian military drawdown from the area around Ukraine’s capital – and reports of civilians being executed there – the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church visited Kyiv’s suburbs and prayed for victims.
On Thursday, His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kyiv-Halych, visited Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel, towns which recently had been liberated from Russian occupation. In Bucha, Archbishop Shevchuk stood over an open mass grave where the bodies of residents had been deposited in black plastic bags and led a short memorial service.
“It is very difficult to speak,” he said in a video published on his Facebook page. “Their blood calls from here, from this earth, to heaven. And the Christian heart, a good ear must hear the cry of that blood. For what? They are young people. It is clear that they took their lives. We came here to pray for their eternal peace.”
He added that it is important that the whole world feel the pain survivors of Bucha feel.
Shevchuk said he also prays for justice, because “if this sin is not condemned, if this crime is not exposed, it can be repeated. Each of us could be in this mass grave.”
As the chanting of the memorial service could be heard in the background, Shevchuk said on the video, “May the Lord God rest the souls of his innocent slain servants; may he save lives; may he bury Ukraine from those criminals who have come to kill, plunder and destroy. Eternal memory to the innocent victims!”
Following the Russian pullout from the area – thought to be a prelude to intensification of military action in Eastern Ukraine – news emerged of scores of bodies left on the streets of Bucha, some with hands tied and bullet wounds in their heads. Russia has denied that its military was responsible for the killings.
Bucha Mayor Anatoliy Fedoruk has said that nearly 300 people were buried in mass graves in his town.
Shevchuk also visited the Greek Catholic Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin in Irpin, which was damaged by Russian troops. Near the church in this Kyiv suburb, he prayed a Marian prayer “Under Your Mercy.”
In his daily video message on Friday, he called Bucha an “open wound on the body of Ukraine.” he said that while he prayed he asked God what it means to love one’s neighbor.
“And looking at the hands of our murdered brothers and sisters, I understood one important thing,” he said. “To love your neighbor means to feel your affinity with him, to feel that we are all human beings, and that in this brotherly grave, where he or she rests, I can rest.”
In his message on Friday — the day news broke about a missile strike on the railway station of Kramatorsk, killing some 50 civilians trying to flee the city before an expected Russian assault — Shevchuk commented, “We understand more and more that this is a war on total destruction. We see our invaders, those who invade cities and villages, mock the civilian population. They are trying to destroy railway tracks in advance, roads that could evacuate residents from dangerous areas. Yesterday we heard that the occupiers seized and confiscated a humanitarian cargo for their needs that our volunteers tried to deliver to those people, especially in Kherson region, who are truly on the verge of starvation to death.”
But he urged the faithful to “love God, who is the source of life, not death.
“We ask our loving God that we may truly feel our unity with our brothers and sisters so that we may even learn to love our enemies,” the primate said. “And loving the enemy means stopping his killing hand, taking his weapons from him, not giving him the opportunity to kill. We ask that in the circumstances of hatred and murder, we may love God and our neighbor and remain human.”