Dear Brother Bishops,
In 2004, I visited Siberia for the first time. I remember meeting with many Ukrainian residents who the Soviet authorities had deported by train to Siberia beginning on 21 October 1947. This operation was called in Russian “Zapad”, which means “West”. In just one day, almost 78,000 residents of Western Ukraine were forcibly deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan. Later, millions of Ukrainians were forcibly deported and murdered in Soviet gulags. History repeats itself today, where 75 years later the genocide of our nation is taking place.
Today I thank you for the opportunity to speak the truth about the war in Ukraine. The last time I addressed you on 9th of May this year, the 75th day of the war. Today we have reached the 259th day of the war. That is more than eight months of horror that all Ukrainians are living through, and the whole civilized world is watching. It is very symbolic that I am speaking to you today, since 9th of November is the day of Ukrainian literature and language.
In this address, there will be a lot of statistics, which are intended to show the terrible consequences of war. Since the beginning of the full-scale military invasion, the Russian Federation has fired about 3,500 missiles at Ukraine. As a result of these attacks, people die, children suffer, air, water and soil are polluted. It is worth noting that about 200,000 square kilometres of the territory of Ukraine already needs demining.
During the eight months of war in Ukraine, according to official data, Russians killed about 6,000 civilians and 11,000 soldiers, 40,000 were wounded. In the city of Mariupol alone, according to unofficial data, they talk about 86,000 people killed. According to the UN, due to Russia’s war against Ukraine, 16 million people were forced to leave their homes in search of safety: 7.4 million Ukrainians were internally displaced persons from the east to the west of Ukraine, 8.6 million Ukrainian citizens went abroad. We can say that 1/3 of the country’s population left their homes. The population of Ukraine before the war was 42 million people, and now it has decreased to 34 million people.
Russia boasts that she helps Ukrainians to preserve their lives in the occupied territories. However, according to data from the aggressor country, more than 4.5 million Ukrainians have already been forcibly deported to Russia, including 690,000 children. They are scattered over the territory of this state, scattered over remote regions of Russia. Ukrainian identity documents were taken from many of them, children were forcibly taken from their parents. Most Ukrainians passed through the terrible filtration camps of the Russians, where they were mocked and intimidated.
During this full-scale war, more than 140,000 houses were destroyed or damaged (more than 3.5 million people were left homeless), 2,614 educational institutions (including 764 kindergartens), 903 health care institutions, 593 pharmacies, 89 social institutions, 511 administrative buildings, 205 churches, temples and mosques, 203 cultural buildings, 412 factories and enterprises, 309 bridges, 25,000 kilometres of roads, 1,991 shops, 27 malls, 28 oil depots, 18 civil airports and 4 sea ports have been destroyed.
On 25th of February, at the beginning of the war, media showed a column of equipment of the occupiers, which stretched for 27 kilometres entering Ukraine. However, on 25th of September, seven months after the start of the war, media showed a multi-kilometre queue of Russians who want to escape from Russia in order to evade mobilization and not go to war. In just two weeks, 1 million men left Russia.
The cost for Russia has also been enormous. According to official data, 77,170 Russian soldiers have died. If you count all the destroyed Russian military equipment, it will be a column more than 100 kilometres long. According to official data, one day of war in Ukraine costs Russia, including sanctions, 20 billion dollars. If these figures are multiplied by the duration of the war, we get an impressive sum of 5.1 trillion dollars that could be spent for the wellbeing of Russian citizens and not for the genocide of the Ukrainian people. Just think, the sum of 5.1 trillion dollars is 10 annual budgets of Australia.
Russia is not at war with just the army but with the people of Ukraine. Constantly shelling cities and villages to cause as many casualties as possible among the civilian population. With such actions, the occupier shows his true face to the entire civilized world.
Today, the enemy uses a tactic in warfare called “famine and cold”. Since the beginning of the war, the Russians have been massively exporting grain from the occupied territories of Ukraine. During the summer, the occupiers deliberately attacked the planted fields in order to destroy the wheat crop through fire and provoke a “famine” in Ukraine and other countries dependent on Ukrainian grain supplies. It is worth noting that according to the 2020 world grain rating, Ukraine ranked 1st in sunflower production, 2nd in barley supply, 4th in corn and 5th in wheat. Ukraine is a very important guarantor of food security in the world on the international grain market.
Russia also uses “cold” as a means of war. Now winter has come in Ukraine and a lot of resources are needed to heat hospitals, schools and houses. However, Russia is purposefully carrying out massive attacks on power plants, gas plants, and water supply facilities. Just think, on 10th of October alone, the occupiers launched 84 cruise missiles and 24 drones which destroyed many infrastructure facilities throughout the country. This is the second such massive attack after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24th of February.
The Russian Federation is already a colossal country. The territory of Ukraine covers only one time zone. The territory of Australia officially covers three time zones. The territory of Russia covers eleven time zones. It holds about 120 ethnic groups and peoples in its iron imperial grip. How much more does she need? How much more human suffering will her colonial ambitions cause? Russia is 28 times larger than Ukraine. However, Ukraine is successfully fighting for its independence. We hope that with the support of the civilized world, Russia will not conquer another independent country.
From 23rd to 27th of September, a pseudo-referendum on the accession of four regions of Ukraine to Russia was held at gun point. On 30th of September, Russian President Putin, violating all principles of international law, announced the annexation of four regions of Ukraine, which make up 15% of the territory of Ukraine and where 8.5 million Ukrainians lived until 2014. The four occupied regions of Ukraine that were annexed to Russia, by Australian standards, are almost like the territory of two islands of Tasmania.
In 1994, Ukraine, which had the third largest nuclear arsenal after the United States and Russia, became the first country to unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons. Yet Russia threatens Ukraine and the whole world with a nuclear Armageddon. In giving up its nuclear weapons, Ukraine signed the “Budapest Memorandum” together with the United States, Great Britain and Russia. It was these states that became the guarantors of Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity. Today, we are witnessing that international agreements do not work, because one of the guarantors, Russia, does not fulfill its obligations. This poses a threat to the established order in the whole world. As a result, Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and launched a full-scale war in Ukraine in 2022.
In the 2022 Post-Synodal Message of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church entitled “Overcome evil with good” we read: “The Russian army kills the innocent and rapes the defenceless, kidnaps children and deports the occupied, tortures prisoners and starves the besieged, steals the grain we grow and loots our homes, annexes lands and destroys seized enterprises, fires at peaceful cities and terrorizes residents. The Russian leadership seeks to destroy Ukrainian statehood and deprive us of our name. “You have eyes and heart only for your dishonest gain, for shedding innocent blood, and for practicing oppression and violence” (Jer. 22, 17). Again, as in the 20th century, the territory of our Fatherland has turned into ‘bloody lands’.”
The aggressor does everything to prevent the peaceful population from leaving the temporarily occupied territories, where people are at risk of hunger, cold and death. The occupiers introduced the so-called filtering process, which all people who want to leave the occupied lands must undergo. This process drags on for days and sometimes weeks in order to make it difficult for people to leave the controlled territory of Ukraine and to instil fear in people.
“Filtration” looks like this: all your documents and possessions are carefully checked; then fingerprints are taken; mobile phones are checked to see if there is anything in Ukrainian; whole families are interrogated, and if someone from the family said something different, the families are separated; humiliated and forced to undress completely; mocked and tortured. After such filtering, the fate of many people is unknown – they are considered missing.
Through the humiliating examination of Ukrainians, Russia introduces its NAZI ideology, which manifests itself in the idea of the “inferiority” of the Ukrainian people, the second-rateness of Ukrainians, and the artificiality of Ukrainian statehood. According to the plan of Russia, the person who renounces the country of his birth, his language, patriotic feelings and, in fact, his entire life, can successfully pass the “filtering”. This is not just discrimination against Ukrainians based on nationality, but it is one of the elements of genocide of our nation.
Your Excellency! Today, through you, I express my gratitude to the Holy Father, Pope Francis for his prayers for peace in Ukraine, for his help in the release of prisoners, for the visits of two cardinals on humanitarian missions and for all the efforts of the Holy See to restore a just peace in Ukraine.
I am sincerely grateful to the Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops for your sincere prayers and for the official appeal and appeal for peace in Ukraine, which was issued on 13th of May this year. I extend my sincere thanks to Caritas Australia, Catholic Mission, Aid to the Church in Need and all dioceses and religious communities for raising funds for humanitarian support of our people and refugees. In a special way, I thank you, my brother bishops for your open hearts, because what you have done to help our people. We read in the Gospel from Matthew: “For I was hungry, and you gave Me food; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a traveller and you received Me; I was naked, and you clothed Me; was sick, and you visited Me…” (Mt. 25, 35-36).
On 31st of July of this year, Australia officially closed the humanitarian visa program for Ukrainian refugees. More than 9,000 visas have been issued to date, of which around 4,500 people have already flown to Australia. I am sincerely grateful to the Australian government, which continues to provide humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine.
Dear brother bishops! Today, Ukraine needs the help of the whole world to resist Russia’s military aggression. I ask you to continue praying and fasting for peace in Ukraine. I encourage good works of mercy that will help us heal the wounds of war. I call on the Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops to visit Ukraine with a fraternal visit. Similar visits have already been made by many delegations of episcopal conferences from about ten countries of the world. On 3rd of July, Mr. Anthony Albanese, Prime Minister of Australia also visited Ukraine. This is very important for us, because such gestures show strong support for the Ukrainian people and the Catholic Church in Ukraine. Also, I call on the Australian Conference of Catholic Bishops to organize collection before Christmas for support refugees and people in Ukraine during this winter which will be the most challenging for our country for decades of independence.
I conclude today’s address to you with the words of prayer: “Almighty God, hear the supplication of our afflicted hearts for the land and people of Ukraine, as they confront foreign aggression and invasion. Look with grace upon those who courageously defend their land. Remember the mothers and fathers, the innocent children, widows and orphans, captured and wounded, the disabled and helpless, those seeking shelter and refuge, mercy and compassion. Bless the hearts of those who have already shown great charity and solidarity in Ukraine’s greatest time of need. Bring us together as your children, your creation, and instil in us your strength, wisdom and understanding. May Your Holy Name be praised and glorified, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.”