CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 14 September 2019

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War fears after Ukraine naval clashes

WARSAW (CNS): “Some of our parishioners in Mariupol and Berdyansk are in a state of panic, fearing Russia is massing its forces for an attack,” said Father Grzegorz Semenkov, chancellor of the Church’s eastern Kharkiv-Zaporizhia Diocese in Ukraine. 
 
Russian forces fired on three Ukrainian navy ships and captured 24 crew members on November 25 in the Kerch Strait adjoining the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia forcibly annexed in early 2014. Russian president, Vladimir Putin, claimed the Ukrainians had illegally entered Russian waters and accused Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, of staging the “provocation” to boost his ratings for the 2019 elections.
 
Poroshenko denied the claims and, with the approval of parliament, declared a 30-day period of martial law on November 26.
 
“Martial law has been declared in response to the new Russian aggression, and though the practical effects haven’t been felt yet, many Catholics have already left the country and others will clearly respond in their own ways if conditions worsen,” Father Semenkov said.
 
The priest noted Poroshenko, justified martial law as a necessary precaution against “new threats from Russia,” adding that its planned 30-day duration would not affect Ukraine’s elections. 
 
However, Father Semenkov said that some Ukrainians were asking why martial law had been declared now “rather than earlier, during more than four years of war in eastern Ukraine.”
 
Meanwhile Hryhoriy Seleshchuk of Caritas Ukraine said local inhabitants had begun hoarding food, water and candles in preparation for a “sudden escalation” in events, pointing out the “really dramatic consequences” that a winter blockade of Ukrainian ports on the Azov Sea would have. 
 
“In modern war, a city can function for just three days if its transport links are cut,” he explained, noting that the city of Mariupol has 750,000 inhabitants, “many of them refugees from fighting further east and it totally depends on sea supplies. Since its people are experienced in dangerous situations, they could probably survive without food or energy for 10 to 14 days. But there would be great suffering.” 
 
Seleshchuk said Caritas was channeling aid to Mariupol, Berdyansk and surrounding towns, and he criticised the lack of a firm reaction to Russian actions from western governments.
 
“I’m afraid Ukraine will be left more or less alone once again to face this crisis, just as it was back in March to May 2014, even if it leads to a full-scale war with the Russian Federation, as many now fear,” he said.
 
In a November 28 interview with the Italian Catholic news agency SIR, Pietro Cardinal Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, urged both sides to show restraint and to avoid “a point of no return.”
 
The latest naval incidents coincide with a Russian-Ukrainian dispute over plans by the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate to recognise an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate approved the text of the charter, or tomos, for an independent Ukrainian Church at its synod in Istanbul on November 29.
 
A Ukrainian Catholic source, who asked not to be named, said it was widely believed the military escalation was linked to the dispute, which could substantially reduce the Ukrainian presence of the Russian Orthodox Moscow Patriarchate.
 
“The Kremlin is sending a clear signal that Ukraine isn’t independent and so isn’t entitled to its own Church,” the source said on November 29. 
 
“This explains the very strong reaction of Ukraine’s government and parliament. By declaring martial law, they’re saying they won’t tolerate any intervention in their internal affairs,” the source said. 

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