As geographically remote as we are in Australia, broadcast and social media has truly brought home to us the horrors of the current conflict in Ukraine which are now the subject of an International Criminal Court investigation into Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of a peaceful, sovereign nation.
As is so often the case in war, innocent civilians are caught up in a conflict which they have no say in, but is very much about the personal ambitions of an autocratic leader, Vladmir Putin, wanting to take over a democratic nation for his own selfish gain to install a puppet regime of his choosing.
And the cost of his actions have been brutally plain to see. In a democratic country such as ours, we are at least blessed with an uncensored media which allowed us to see the unconscionable cost of war on our TV screens and mobile phones.
We will never forget, for example, the tragic death of 18 month- old baby boy Kirill, whose parents Marina and Fedor were left grieving for after Putin’s forces shelled a hospital in the south-eastern port city of Mariupol.
What makes the shelling of this city truly unconscionable was that Russia had promised a temporary ceasefire at the time to allow civilians to flee the city.
Yet instead Russia chose to deliberately target civilians in areas which it had agreed would be deemed a a so- called “green corridor” where civilians could leave in safety.
The International Criminal Court has now launched an investigation into Russia’s actions, at the request of 39 countries, including Australia. We know, however, from the experience in the past that such ICC investigations can sadly take many years to hold leaders to proper account for their conduct.
As we see the largest flow of refugees across Europe since World War Two, Australia is poised to play its part in providing sanctuary to thousands fleeing Ukraine and it has been pleasing to see our political leaders at the state and federal level pledge to do what they can to support that.
As Catholics, we have also seen strong leadership from our spiritual leaders in support of the people of Ukraine and the Ukrainian diaspora. Pope Francis has strongly rejected the rhetoric of the Putin regime in downplaying the conflict as “a special military operation”, emphasising that rivers of blood and tears are flowing in a war which is leading to death, destruction and misery. The Holy Father also took the diplomatically unprecedented step of turning up at the Russian embassy in Rome to call Russia to account.
Our own Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has emphatically demonstrated his solidarity with the people of Ukraine, concelebrating at a Divine Liturgy at St Andrew’s Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Lidcombe last Sunday. Archbishop Fisher has strongly condemned Russia’s actions in decapitating its peaceful neighbour and wanting to replace its democratically-elected government with a puppet regime, leaving thousands dead and millions displaced.
As Archbishop Fisher has correctly emphasised, the attack on Ukraine is very much an attack on Christian values which should be of deep concern to us all. The Christian churches in Ukraine, including the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church take pride in their independence from the state, which is sadly not the case with the Russian Orthodox Church which through the leadership of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, has strongly endorsed Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
But in geographically distant Australia, what can we do to support our brothers and sisters in troubled Ukraine? In practical terms, we can donate if we can to support the Caritas Ukraina appeal to ensure as much humanitarian aid as possible reaches needy civilians. Once refugees from Ukraine start arriving in Australia, we should also be doing all we can to make them feel welcome and provide them with the counselling and other welfare support they will need having fled such horrific circumstances.
And above all, as Catholics, we are people of prayer and Ukraine has a number of patron saints which we should be praying to in these desperate times. One of the most powerful patrons is St Michael the Archangel, the patron of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, whose primary responsibility we know is to combat Satan. May this angel intervene at this time to protect Ukraine from the forces of evil in our world today. St Michael the Archangel, pray for us!