Ukrainian Ambassador to the Holy See Discusses ‘All the Horrors of War’ and How ‘True Peace Requires Justice’

Andrii Yurash, the Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See, gives interview to EWTN Feb. 23.

Ambassador Andrii Yurash (l) speaks with Andreas Thonhauser, EWTN Vatican bureau chief, Feb 23.
Ambassador Andrii Yurash (l) speaks with Andreas Thonhauser, EWTN Vatican bureau chief, Feb 23. (photo: Alan Koppschall/EWTN Vatican)

Andrii Yurash is the Ukrainian ambassador to the Holy See. He spoke with EWTN’s Andreas Thonhauser on Feb. 23 in a filmed interview. This transcript has been edited for clarity by Alan Koppschall. Read the full interview and watch the video below.


Today is a very sad anniversary. It is one year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There has been one year of war on European soil. What’s the situation like in your home country? 

First of all, thank you for inviting me today. For me, it’s very important to have this possibility to express my feelings. It is certainly a very sad moment, when all Ukrainians are thinking about the realities, and consequences, of this war. We have been trying to understand why it has happened for almost one year. And, in fact, this war has really been going on for eight years. 

And we’re realizing that it is a consequence of very large preconditions: both our history and our desire to be a member of the European family. These are the reasons. 

But surely we are paying too high a price for that. 

We are paying with something which is not just material. Cities and houses are destroyed in Ukraine, but the most terrible thing is the loss of life of our people. That is something which we couldn’t have even imagined before. Europe is a continent with a prestigious cultural tradition, with a large heritage on many dimensions. 

But now we have a repeat of all the horrors of war. 


I know that you also organized a conference here in Rome, addressing the situation in Ukraine. And at this conference, there was mention of a real war crime, a crime against humanity: the abduction of children. Can you tell us more about that?

At the event was a presentation by seven members of the Ukrainian Parliament. They were visiting Rome and also had an opportunity to speak with representatives of the diplomatic corps at the Holy See. 

And they presented the most reliable figures about the situation in general, and especially about the children. 

And, even for me, the figures they presented were very unexpected and hard to believe: Close to 800,000 children have been abducted from the Ukrainian territory. I didn’t believe it myself. 

And when I heard this figure from the members of the Ukrainian Parliament, I checked many different sources. And I and my colleagues from the embassy found, even according to the Russian sources, evidence that 685,000 children had been abducted. But that’s not a complete number. 

During a war, it’s very hard to count each person. But, still, this figure is very close to the reality: a terrible reality.


And do we know what has happened to these children?

There are different situations. Some of them — I really hope it’s the majority of them — are with their parents. 

And I think it’s better that they are with their moms or someone from their families. But thousands of children now are held in special camps, for reeducation, where they are taught some untruthful, completely pro-Russian, ideology and perceptions of the world. 

Everybody now understands the realities of the Russian propaganda. And when I realized that, I tried to obtain at least the most important points of this propaganda. I checked several Russian media outlets and some Russian special channels. And I found that what are they expressing, what they are trying to present to their own citizens, what they are trying to convert the rest of the world to through different methods of spreading the information, it's absolutely, amazingly unrealistic. It is not the reality of the actual situation on any dimension: about the front, about the war, about the reasons for the war, about the position of Ukraine. It’s an absolutely unrealistic perception about everything, even about how the West is responding to this war. 

And I am afraid that children who receive this amount of completely false information will become products of this Russian ideological machine. So we really want to return all of them as quickly as possible to the Ukrainian territory.


Ukraine is also asking for help from the international community, and you’re here as the ambassador to the Holy See. What is the role of the Vatican in this conflict?

Yes, we are asking everybody, every country, all international organizations, to be involved in this process for peace. 

At the same time, I am personally asking — as a representative of Ukraine to the Holy See — I am asking the Holy See to be as active as possible as well. It’s a terrible problem for Ukraine. 

We are certainly thinking about peace. The Holy See is speaking about peace, and, yesterday, the Holy Father also said that peace is the most desirable task and goal of the Holy See and of all people. 

But if we want to obtain peace, we have to think about the preconditions for peace. Peace is not just bringing an end to the fighting. 

True peace requires justice, because those children need to have justice. The families from which those children, those sons or daughters, were stolen and brought to Russia, they also need to have this justice.

 And justice is also a necessary for everyone from Ukraine who lost their homes, who lost their families. They need to feel that justice is common to each person, to each family. 

And justice requires the return of the territory. Now, millions of people are spread around Europe: in Italy, in Austria, in Poland, and in many other countries. And we want to welcome all those people back. 

But how can they come back to their homes, if their homes are destroyed? We can rebuild; we can reconstruct. But it is more difficult, more terrible, if the territories in which they used to have homes or apartments now are occupied. So we need to liberate territories, to bring people back, to reinstate justice. And that will be true peace.


And how realistic is it that Ukraine will see peace soon?

I think anything is possible. ... I did not believe that the war would happen, even two days before it began. I said, “No, it’s impossible.” 

From any rational point, it was something incredibly unrealistic, but it happened. And in this way, I am always trying to respond to the challenge and the possibility of restoring the peace. 

I believe that in some way — we cannot say right now how exactly — but in some way, it will come soon. I really have hope, and a lot of people are praying for that. And something can happen that we can’t imagine at this moment. Or maybe I just don’t know, today, about these circumstances, about the realities on some dimension. But I think it will be done soon, and we will have our territories returned to us. 

For example, last September, Ukraine won back a region that is very important for us, the Kharkiv region. Kharkiv was a former capital of Ukraine 100 years ago and is very close to the Russian border. Luckily, thank God, Kharkiv itself wasn’t occupied, but the majority of this region was occupied. And in several days, the Ukrainian army was able to liberate and to return it back to our state, to our people. And our people are actively returning to this area. 

The same, I believe, will happen soon with other Ukrainian territories. And surely, we will help one another. A very important component and aspect of our future victory — it is really essential — is the help from many countries, from Italy, the United States, and many, many others: the European Union, Poland, Great Britain, and many others. 

I certainly can’t mention all these countries, right now, but we are receiving a lot of practical help: with weapons, with any materials, and in many different ways. So this helps. 

It helps all Ukrainians to stay much stronger, to understand that we are not alone. We are not just ourselves with this terrible battle against evil, against a side that represents horror and terrorists in the contemporary world. We are together. Just recently, we had the visit of Prime Minister [Giorgia] Meloni, in Kyiv. And … we had the visit of the American president [Joe Biden] to Kyiv. And the value of these are gestures should not be underestimated.


Is there anything that you would wish from the side of the Holy See that still could be done to bring about peace?

The Holy See is doing a lot; I’m sure about that. It is not just with phrases or with declarations. I know they’re trying to find ways of communicating with different partners, with different institutions and organizations around the world. But also, we’re trying to convince the Holy See to participate very actively and very practically in some concrete situations related to the war. We are thinking even further: how to renovate the economy of the country, for instance. 

I mean, first of all, if they want to, the Holy See could support President Zelenskyy’s 10-point plan for peace. I realize not all these points can be acceptable for each country. But each country can participate in bringing about at least one of these points. 

And I have already had several communications from the highest representatives of the Holy See that at least three points can be very concretely aligned with the strategy of the Holy See. 

For example, implementing justice: We are speaking about justice. And the Church, any church, but especially the Holy See and the Catholic Church, always should emphasize justice as the most important value. The second point is freeing those who were captured, kidnapped from Ukraine. And the Holy See is participating in some communication on that side. And the third point, also important, is the confirmation of the end of the war. Because, when we speak about peace, about the end of the war, about the victory, these are important concepts. But, at the same time, somebody has to say, “Yes, we are already on that point,” when we have reached peace. 

And the authority, the moral authority and the spiritual authority of the Holy See, can work for that reality. And I think also this aspect can be obtained with the practical involvement of the Holy See. 

As well, we are encouraging the Holy See to participate in some programs, in some initiatives, related to rebuilding some institutions, some spheres of Ukraine in those areas that are the most devastated by the war. 

Of course, I am not speaking about some large military infrastructure. I am speaking about the educational system, about churches: More than 400 churches were destroyed during the war. And if we could discuss any possibility for the Holy See to participate in rebuilding some of them, it will be a real help.


As an ambassador, you’re in the business of diplomacy, but do you also pray for peace?

For sure. Every day I try to pray, because peace, for me, it’s not something abstract. It’s very concrete. For example, my oldest son is the youngest member of Parliament in the Ukraine; but at the same time, any free day he has, he goes to the front, and he is a soldier. And he spends 90% of his time in the army. So, for me, peace is bringing my oldest son back home and bringing peace and quietness in my private family life. 

So prayer is very important. And this is why our embassy declared this week as a week of prayer for Ukraine. 

On Tuesday, we had the first big Mass for peace in Sant’Andrea Church. This Mass was presided over by Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher [Secretary for Relations with States for the Vatican’s Secretariat of State]. Tomorrow, we will have two Masses as well. Today, we will have Mass at the San Sofia Church, and we will finish with a prayer. We invited everybody to the Basilica of Santa Sofia, which is the famous Ukrainian spiritual center here in Rome. So, prayer, now for us, for the embassy, and for our mission, is something very concrete and very inspiring for us here and for everybody in Ukraine, because they are ready, and they are happy to hear of this spiritual support. 

And, for example, a few days ago, our members of Parliament —seven of them — came and visited Archbishop Gallagher [and] Cardinal [Pietro] Parolin [the Vatican’s Secretary of State]. Yesterday, they even had the possibility to briefly meet the Holy Father. They came, and they had a presentation today in the [Italian] Parliament and spoke there. 

The Holy See is praying for Ukraine. And our members of Parliament already passed this message from Rome on to the Ukrainian parliament and to the Ukrainian people.


Thank you very much, Ambassador. We will also be praying for Ukraine and for a peaceful resolution to the situation.

Thank you.