February 22, 2023 // Perspective

One year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine

From the first moments of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, the Church in the United States united in praying for a swift, peaceful resolution to the conflict. Within hours of the beginning of the fighting, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops tweeted, “We join @Pontifex in calling on all people of goodwill to pray for the people of #Ukraine and for an end to war.”

As the world watched in horror, we prayed the fighting wouldn’t last more than a few days or weeks. And now, the war has stretched on for a year. At the time of the war’s outbreak, this Editorial Board implored, “While this unjust war is being waged half a world away … we must always acknowledge that with every missile strike or artillery fire, people are suffering; lives are being displaced and lost.” One year into the conflict, the toll echoes across the ocean, the costs of human suffering seemingly ringing without end.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recorded 17,994 civilian casualties in Ukraine from Feb. 24, 2022, to Jan. 2, 2023. Of those, 6,919 were killed and 11,075 injured; 429 of those civilian deaths were children. As of Feb. 7, the same office reports that more than 8 million Ukrainian refugees have fled to neighboring European nations, with almost as many displaced internally.

The Catholic Church has been there, working tirelessly to alleviate suffering in the name of the Gospel.

The Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA) has contributed more than $6 million in humanitarian aid this past year. That includes distributing food packages for more than 40,000 people through the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and coordinating aid through the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv for support of 68 special-needs children at the Lviv Children’s Hospital and Home. CNEWA is prepared to spend more than $4 million in continued efforts this year.

On Feb. 25, one day after the outbreak of the war, the Knights of Columbus donated $1 million for the support of Ukrainian refugees. “The situation in Ukraine is dire and worsening. The people of Ukraine and our brother Knights in that nation need our help,” Supreme Knight Patrick Kelly wrote. The Ukraine Solidarity fund was launched to support those efforts, and to date has raised more than $20 million. Knights and volunteers joining their efforts have distributed more than 100,000 care packages to Ukrainians in need.

In six months alone, Malteser Ukraine served more than 365,000 hot meals to refugees at locations throughout Ukraine. “Fear has become a constant companion of the people. But as long as it is possible, we will continue our humanitarian work and care for the injured, sick, and refugees who need help,” Pavlo Titko, Head of Malteser Ukraine, said in a statement. The Knights of Malta have supplied ambulances, medicine, tents, camp beds, blankets, food, field kitchens, and more to people in need in Ukraine.

These are just three Catholic humanitarian organizations that have been present in Ukraine since Day One.

And for the rest of us? Last month, Pope Francis reiterated his call for an end to this war, which he denounced as a “crime against God and humanity.” Noting the global impact of the conflict, the pope also called for us to remember that “war particularly affects those who are most fragile — children, the elderly, the disabled — and leaves an indelible mark on families.” And while we cannot ourselves end a global conflict, we can ease the suffering of the most vulnerable.

But finally, and perhaps most importantly as we mark the anniversary of the outbreak of the war, we must redouble our efforts in prayer. In an inspiring video message last year, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych said, “We survived yet another horrible night, but after night, there comes day, there is morning. After darkness, there comes light, just after death, there comes resurrection.” We are Christians. We are people of hope. Our continued and faithful prayers for peace are an expression of hope, that longing for light which drives every disciple.

The Our Sunday Visitor Editorial Board includes Father Patrick Briscoe, Gretchen R. Crowe, Scott P. Richert, Scott Warden, and York Young.

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