Vatican Details Humanitarian Crisis in Ukraine Ahead of Sunday Collection

A collection will be held in all European Catholic churches this coming Sunday to support the people of Ukraine. The initiative comes after Pope Francis called on European Catholics during the Regina Caeli on April 3 to perform a gesture of charity to alleviate the material suffering of Ukrainians.

On the eve of the collection, the Vatican shared today some of the extreme hardships and suffering taking place in a country that continues to be stricken by a conflict that many people think has ended.

The conflict began in the spring of 2014 when Russia made several incursions into Ukrainian territory, beginning with Crimea. After demonstrations by pro-Russian groups in the Donbass area of Ukraine, the situation escalated into an armed conflict between the Ukrainian government and separatist forces of the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics.

The Vatican pointed out that despite a ceasefire last September, the conflict continues, claiming victims “due mostly to the large amount of mines that have not been removed, and by relentless artillery fire.”

It said there have been around “9,000 confirmed deaths” since the conflict started as well as “disappearances and prisoners, often illegally held.” The situation has led to “grave hardships” throughout the country and the outlook has worsened “as a result of the general economic situation.”

The country’s “extreme inflation” has led to half a million people “urgently in need of food,” it said, adding that there are also over one and a half million displaced persons within the country and that the areas of greatest need are in the health sector.

“More than 120 health care centres have been damaged or destroyed,” the Vatican said. “Expectant mothers are at particular risk, and the likelihood of the spread of AIDS and tuberculosis is significant. Anaesthetic is scarce and operations are often carried out without. Where medicines exist (many pharmacies have been closed), the price of medicine has reached prohibitive levels.”

The Vatican estimates that around three million people are living in conditions of “extreme hardship” and the majority are elderly people unable to leave the combat zone.

Thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed, many children are unable to attend school, are displaced, and traumatized by the war. “Some have even lost the ability to read and write,” the Vatican communique said.

It’s difficult for humanitarian supplies to reach the people, but religions including Catholics are “fully mobilized to assist those in need.” The Vatican said the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum", the Pope’s charity, will manage how the collection is spent, and will be “reporting on its activity as appropriate.”

Speaking to the Register last month, Bishop Borys Gudziak, head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s department of external relations, said “scores of people” continue to be killed “every week” and that much of the country’s workforce have seen their salaries plummet by two thirds while prices remain what they were. But he added that the “spiritual and psychological staying power of the population is incredible.”

In an April 14 statement, Bishop Gudziak said the three things needed most are “to pray for peace and justice in Ukraine, to stay informed regarding the true situation in this ancient European land and to show your solidarity.” He added that there are “1.7 million internally displaced people and a million refugees in neighboring countries. Half a million do not have basic food and hundreds of thousands do not have access to safe drinking water.”

In a press release issued this afternoon to coincide with the appeal, the Congregation for Oriental Churches urged “everyone to contribute generously” to ensure the most vulnerable and wounded are assisted.