By Courtney Mares
A Ukrainian military commander has written a letter to Pope Francis asking him to help save the people of Mariupol, who have suffered from limited access to food or water under Russian bombardment for 50 days.
Major Serhiy Volyna, who has been leading the 36th marine brigade in the battle for the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, described some of the horrors of the war he has witnessed and pleaded with the pope to do something to help safely evacuate people from the city.
“You have probably seen a lot in your life. But I am sure that you have never seen the things happening to Mariupol. Because this is what the hell on earth looks like,” Volyna wrote, according to an English translation provided by the Religious Information Service of Ukraine on April 18.
“I have little time to describe all the horrors I see here every day. Women with children and babies live in bunkers at the factory. They are hungry and cold. Every day they are living in the sights of enemy aircraft. The wounded die every day because there is no medicine, no water, and no food.”
Volyna, who is not a Catholic, but an Orthodox Christian, said that he was turning to the pope for concrete help “because the time has come when prayers are not enough.”
“Bring the truth to the world, evacuate people and save their lives from the hands of Satan, who wants to burn all living things,” the military commander said.
The besieged city of Mariupol has been under Russian bombardment since March 1. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that more than 100,000 people remain trapped in Mariupol with limited access to food and water.
A spokesman for UN Secretary General António Guterres said on April 18 that he was “greatly concerned by the continuing appalling humanitarian situation in the besieged city of Mariupol, which has been largely destroyed by weeks of unrelenting Russian attacks.”
The Russian assault on the city intensified last weekend after Ukraine’s prime minister declared that Ukrainian military forces will not heed the Russians’ call for them to surrender, but “will fight to the end.”
Ukrainian officials have said that Russian forces in Mariupol outnumber Ukrainian troops by six to one.
“I am ready to fight to the end … despite the overwhelming force of the enemy, despite the inhumane conditions on the battlefield, the constant artillery and rocket fire, the lack of water, food and medicine,” he said.
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk has lamented what he described as the “mass murder” of Ukrainians in Mariupol, saying last month that the “City of Mary” has been transformed into a cemetery by Russian bombardment.
Last week seven people were killed when a tank fired on the Mariupol Caritas office, a Catholic charity that offers humanitarian aid.
“No one has any trust in the Russian occupiers anymore,” Major Volyna said.
Despite the “inhumane conditions,” the military commander said that he will remain faithful to his “oath of allegiance to his country.”
“I believe in God, and I know that light always overcomes darkness,” he said.