By Katie Yoder
The leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church is choosing to stay in his home country even as, he says, it risks becoming a “death camp.”
Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych remained in the capital city of Kyiv instead of traveling to Florence for a scheduled bishops’ meeting that Pope Francis was expected to address, reports say.
Early Thursday morning, Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by launching missiles into the country. Nearly 3 million people live in Kyiv, where videos capture blaring air raid sirens and long lines of traffic as citizens attempt to flee. Others took more immediate shelter in underground train stations.
In a letter addressed to Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti of Perugia and the president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Shevchuk stressed that “the current situation requires my presence in the country.”
While Ukrainians desire peace, Shevchuk worried that “the whole of Ukraine risks becoming a death camp.”
Asking for support and prayers, he added, “the people cry out to all humanity: Help us defend peace in Ukraine and Europe.”
CNA previously reported that Shevchuk took cover in an air-raid shelter under the Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kyiv, according to a communication from the archbishop’s secretariat.
“The city of Kyiv at this time is under bombardment by the Russian army,” the statement read. “As you will understand, His Beatitude is not reachable at this time and cannot make any statements. Alongside his people, His Beatitude asks you to join him and his people in prayers that Ukraine will be preserved from unjust aggression.”
It added: “The priority, for the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, is, and always will be, closeness to the wounded population. Let us pray for Ukraine.”
In a separate letter to his people, the Ukrainian archbishop — the leader of the biggest of the 23 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See — expressed his trust in God.
“We believe that in this historic moment the Lord is with us,” Shevchuk said Thursday morning. “He, who holds in his hands the fate of the whole world and of each person in particular, is always on the side of the victims of unjust aggression, the suffering and the enslaved.”
Other religious figures are also choosing to stay in Ukraine, including one priest who works for EWTN.