Zaporozhye in south-east Ukraine was under artillery fire today morning. Three rockets hit the industrial zone and a residential area. The shelling has caused deaths and injuries, yet the exact number of casualties is unknown at this time. The city authorities urge residents to remain in bomb shelters.
“I will stay with the people here till the very end, no matter what,” said Bishop Jan Sobillo in an interview with the Vatican Radio.
The city is bracing for the attack
Kharkiv and Krivoy Rog, where iron ore mines valuable to the Russians are located, are also under fire. “The Russians want to destabilize Ukraine’s economy, which is why they target industrial zones,” explains the auxiliary bishop of Zaporozhye. Their aim is to take over Zaporozhye, Kherson, Luhansk and Donetsk regions to gain free access to Crimea and at the same time cut Ukraine off from the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.
“Our soldiers assure us that their morale is undiminished; on the contrary, with every shelling they are more and more determined not only to defend themselves, but also to drive the Russians out of Ukraine,” says Bishop Sobillo, who adds: “The residents, which until now in Zaporozhye was focused on helping the refugees who managed to get out of Mariupol, Berdyansk and Melitopol, realized this morning that they are under the very same threat here. Thousands of Russian soldiers, over a thousand tanks, cannons and armored vehicles are positioned outside the city. It is clear that the Russians are preparing for a frontal attack on Zaporozhye.”
People flock to churches
“After today’s shelling many people came to our church; we know that our hope is in God. We thank the Holy Father for his concern and blessing. Every time danger is imminent, we remember the consecration of Ukraine, Russia and the whole world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We are aware that what we are experiencing is part of the great cause of liberating Europe and the world from all evil. Therefore, we thank Poland and all the brothers and sisters from other countries for their solidarity in prayer and humanitarian aid.
Many people have decided to leave Zaporozhye for western Ukraine or further afield, for Poland. Evacuation trains and buses operate round the clock. The local authorities are encouraging people, especially women with children, to evacuate.
There is every indication that Russia has no intention of stopping, which is why there is set to be another wave of refugees from large cities such as Dnipro and Zaporozhye. This morning has shown that the threat is enormous,” indicates the Ukrainian bishop.
I do not consider myself a hero
“I plan to stay in Zaporozhye until the very end, as long as there are people around. I am not just talking about the Catholics here, because new people keep coming. They say that this war has made them think about the meaning of life and they decide to go to confession and to baptize their children. Many people have discovered the presence of God in this difficult situation, so I know that I am needed here. I must be present for them. Hence my decision to remain in Zaporozhye until the very end, no matter what,” explains Bishop Sobillo. “Whenever we find ourselves in a particular situation, it prompts us what our choice should be. I believe that any priest who would be witnessing what people are going through here would stay with them. That is what the priesthood is all about – to remain where we are needed. I don’t consider myself a hero. I believe that any priest in my position would stay with the people to boy up their spirits.”
Children in jeopardy
Children are the most vulnerable. In Zaporozhye, the youngest kids do not go to school. Even online lessons are often out of the question. Children are in a dire state; they are terrified and paralyzed by the blare of air raid sirens.
As Bishop Sabillo observes, “Unfortunately, it will take its toll on their mental health. War causes a lot of destruction; the visible damage is covered by the media, but the covert one will one day manifest itself in the psyche of those poor children who, instead of playing in sandpits, have to hide in the basement waiting for the air raid to end.”
Łukasz Sośniak SJ / vaticannews.va / Fr.