2014-03-03 18:56:11

Church pledges to continue pastoral support for people of Ukraine

(Vatican Radio) The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC) says it is preparing to provide pastoral support to soldiers who have been called up to defend Ukraine amid a Russian invasion. The statement came while the international community was preparing a response to Russian military movements in the Crimean Peninsula.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who heads the UGCC, said he regrets that his former Soviet nation has been pulled into a military conflict with neighbouring Russia who he called “the aggressor.”

In a statement monitored by Vatican Radio on Monday, the Major Archbishop said that his Church would, in his words, “stand together on the battlefield” with Ukrainian soldiers and "is ready to provide pastoral support” at a time when up to one million men have been called up to serve in Ukraine's army.

Major Archbishop Sviatoslav's statement came while Russia's grip of the Crimean Peninsula showed no signs of ending any time soon.

There was confusion after Russian state media said Russia had told Ukrainian forces in Crimea to leave by Tuesday morning local time or face a military storm. Russian authorities later denied any ultimatum had been delivered.


Half way between the Crimean capital of Simferopol and the Black Sea, hundreds of Russian troops in trucks and armoured vehicles have already surrounded two military compounds, confining Ukrainian soldiers, who have refused to surrender, as virtual prisoners.

Russian ships have also been spotted moving in and around the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet has a base.

In Simferopol, the regional parliament remains adorned by Russian flags. Across the border with Ukraine, as many as 150.000 Russian troops are lined up for war games.

Russian president Vladimir Putin says he has the right to protect Russian interests in Crimea, which once belonged to Russia.

The latest tensions prompted European Union foreign ministers on Monday to begin emergency talks on Ukraine, explained European Commission President José Manuel Barosso.


“We have already expressed our very serious concerns about the situation. The situation has not improved,” he noted. “Many contacts have taken place with the Ukrainian authorities and also the Russian authorities because we believe it is very important to show our commitment to the sovereignty of Ukraine.”

He said the EU was preparing to work with the International Monetary Fund on economic support for Ukraine and added the door remains open for the country to join an EU free trade agreement. Diplomats have said ministers would first press for mediation to prevent escalation and hold in reserve the possibility of sanctions against Moscow.

However Russia was already paying a financial price on Monday for its military intervention in neighbouring Ukraine, with stocks, bonds and the Russian currency, the rouble, plunging.

The Moscow stock market fell by more than 11 percent, wiping nearly $60 billion off the value of Russian companies in just one day. And, the central bank spent $10 billion of its reserves to prop up the rouble.

Investors are concerned about the tensions in Ukraine as they have led to Russia's biggest confrontation with the West since the Cold War.

Listen to Stefan Bos' report: RealAudioMP3

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