Ukrainian spiritual and diplomatic leaders call for help and arms

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The top leader of Ukrainian Catholics in the United States and Ukraine’s ambassador to the nation on Tuesday issued an urgent appeal to the world for more weapons to fight Russia’s invasion and help to deal with the worsening humanitarian crisis.

Archbishop Borys Gudziak, Metropolitan Archbishop of Philadelphia for the Ukrainian Catholic Church in the United States, told a news conference in Washington that there was an urgent need for armored ambulances, medical supplies and food, but also weapons.

“What’s the point of feeding the stomachs of these children, these women, these people in the cities, if their brains are going to be blown out, if their buildings are going to be reduced to rubble?” said Gudziak. “There must be massive defensive aid and massive humanitarian aid.”

Ambassador Oksana Markarova also called for more sanctions against Moscow and for increased aid and diplomatic efforts to keep humanitarian corridors open. She accused Russian forces of committing genocide.

“They are targeting civilians. They kill children, pregnant women. They kill old people,” Markarova said.

More than 3 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the war, now in its third week, and thousands of soldiers and civilians have died.

On Tuesday, Russia stepped up its bombardment of the capital Kyiv, and civilians fled Mariupol along a humanitarian corridor in what was believed to be the biggest evacuation to date from the beleaguered port city.

Gudziak said he was “sad” to see Russian Orthodox Church leaders supporting President Vladimir Putin and the war, and he criticized Patriarch Kirill for giving a large icon of the Virgin Mary to a leader of the Russian national guard.

“It takes place in the largest church in the capital of Russia. The Patriarch gives the Mother of God to these war criminals,” the Archbishop said.

Gudziak, who also heads the department of external church relations for the Kyiv-based Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, added that he met Pope Francis five weeks ago, before the war, and asked the pontiff to call Putin.

The Vatican called for peace, humanitarian corridors, a ceasefire and a return to negotiations, and also offered to mediate between the parties. Francis visited the Russian embassy in Rome last month to “personally express his concern over the war,” in an extraordinary papal gesture without recent precedent. But Francis did not publicly condemn Russia by name or publicly appeal to Kirill.

“I think he did everything he could behind the scenes,” Gudziak said.

“I am convinced that he did everything possible to speak to Putin, and I have information that he did not get any answers for his actions towards Patriarch Kirill. But I think that will change,” Gudziak said. “I hope Russian church leaders will open up.”

Gudziak said an encouraging response to the invasion has been the coming together of people from various religious traditions.

“Orthodox, Catholics, East and West, Protestants, Muslims, Jews are united in a stand against this war and are working each and every one for humanitarian relief to help people stay strong,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Putin to meet him directly, a request that was not met by the Kremlin. Markarova said any good faith negotiations to end the war will require a ceasefire.

“We have a saying in Ukraine: ‘If Russia stops shooting, the war will stop. If Ukraine stops shooting today, our country will disappear,” Markarova said. “So it’s totally up to Russia.”

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