By Sr Bernadette Mary Reis, fsp
Eastern Ukraine has experienced six years of war, and numerous ceasefires. Yet another ceasefire goes into effect for the ravaged Donbass region on Monday where Russian backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian Forces since April 2014. The ceasefire was negotiated last week in the Belorussian capital of Minsk by members of the Trilateral Contact Group representing Ukraine, the Russian Federation and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.
Speaking after the Angelus on Sunday, Pope Francis said he was grateful for “this sign of goodwill aimed at bringing much-desired peace to that tormented region.” He added that he is praying the ceasefire “will finally be put into practice, also through effective disarmament and mine clearance.” Only in this way, the Pope said, will it be possible "to rebuild trust and lay the foundations for (a) reconciliation that is so necessary and so long awaited by the people.”
Vatican Radio’s Stefano Leszczynski spoke with the President of Caritas Ukraine, Andrij Waskowycz, about the importance of this ceasefire agreement and about the three humanitarian crises facing Ukraine.
Latest ceasefire agreement
“The agreement is actually very important for the people!” Waskowycz exclaimed. The people, he continued, “want an end to the war.” He recalled that President Volodymyr Zelensky took office with the commitment of bringing an end to the conflict, but noted that ”the key to ending the war is not in Zelensky’s hands,” although the President has been pushing the peace process.
Welcoming the ceasefire signed last week by the Contact Group, Waskowycz noted that since other ceasefires for the Donbass region have been reached and broken, it “is not clear whether this ceasefire will hold. In the meanwhile, he said, there have been “numerous casualties: 25,000 people injured, and around 13,200 people who have been killed. “ The people hope that something will change,” Waskowycz said, “but they are very sceptical whether this ceasefire will hold.”
Regarding the mine clearance process, also mentioned by Pope Francis, Waskowycz confirmed that this is an absolutely necessary condition for the peace process to move forward. However, he also related that there have been recent press reports alleging the placing of fresh mines in an area that had previously been cleared. This has heightened the fear that should these mines explode via a timing mechanism, “it will look like the Ukrainians are breaking the ceasefire agreement.”
Waskowycz said the people living in the Donbass region are living in a very difficult situation, exacerbated by Covid-19. “There are 3.1 million people in this area who need humanitarian assistance,” he said. Delivering food has become more difficult, and many people cannot provide for their basic needs. Social and economic insecurity also cause additional suffering to that caused by the war. In some cases, even the lives of their children have been put at risk due to the shelling of schools. “There is a generation of kids who are growing up with the experience of war in 21st century Europe”, Waskowycz explained. This is an “absolutely terrible situation for so many people”.
Not 1, but 3 humanitarian crises
In addition to the war and Covid-19, flooding in western Ukraine is creating a third crisis in the nation. “All of this,” Waskowycz said, “in one of the poorest countries in Europe.”
Caritas Ukraine is active in confronting all three crises. In the East, they are offering “help, assistance and hope in the buffer zone where the people are suffering most.” They are focusing their efforts on people who live alone, in fact, he explained, "Many young people have left the dangerous war-zone area.”
Its efforts to counter Covid-19 are centred in the Western part of Ukraine, where the organization is providing economic “relief to families who cannot provide … for their families.”
Flooding hit western Ukraine at the end of June and beginning of July. An estimated 300 towns or villages have been affected. Regarding the flooding, Waskowycz says that it has been described by Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk as “the biggest flood in a lifetime.” At least three people were killed, and he noted that many houses have been damaged making people homeless.
“Caritas and the Church are actively organizing help for those in need in all three of these crises which have hit Ukrainian society very seriously," he said.
About Caritas Ukraine
Caritas Ukraine is a member of Caritas Internationalis. It operates through 20 organizations in 8 regions of the country. With the help of almost 1000 employees and volunteers, Caritas Ukraine focuses on providing assistance in different areas: children, youth and families, healthcare, migration and assistance during crisis situations.