Both visits have taken place against the backdrop of a war causing millions of people to flee Ukraine. As the month of May drew to a close, UNHCR figures indicate nearly 7 million people have crossed the borders to neighbouring countries, close to a million of whom to Russia.
Upon invitation from the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) – a member of both the WCC and ACT Alliance – the delegation visited aid centres and places of temporary accommodation for refugees from Ukraine in the Rostov-on-Don and Shakhty dioceses, both of which border the Donbas region of southeast Ukraine.
In Rostov-on-Don and Shakhty, the Russian Orthodox Church accompanies refugees primarily from Donbas, and while some refugee families receive accommodation and food support from the Russian state, the church also accompanies them through spiritual and psychosocial support, as well as by collecting and distributing aid packages for self-housed refugee families.
The visit also included opportunities to meet and listen to local church leaders and how they work to respond to current realities in the region.
For WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, the visit served as a reminder of the importance of churches engaging in ecumenical diakonia – a substantive publication on which is forthcoming from the WCC.
“Churches, specialized ministries, ecumenical organizations have shown deeply inspiring work to support those who are fleeing inside and outside Ukraine since the beginning of the war this past February. We see the importance of the role of ecumenical diakonia in the life of the church, and pray that this heartfelt response will continue,” Phiri reflected.
For the general secretary of the ACT Alliance Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, this visit evidenced the traumatic and stressful experience refugees face in conflict situations. “It is crucial that humanitarian actors, including churches, affirm the primacy of the humanitarian imperative, and take action to prevent and alleviate human suffering arising out of this war. Refugees must be assured that humanitarian principles are upheld, and nothing should override them,” Bueno de Faria said.
Recalling the experience of travelling along the border west of Ukraine, WCC director of international affairs Peter Prove reflected on the importance of witnessing humanitarian realities on all sides of the war, in order to support adequate measures for peace long-term.
“While it may be difficult to see a clear path to peace in this conflict, as a worldwide fellowship of churches we must continue to engage and to support efforts for genuine dialogue between all parties involved. And in the midst of all this, it is essential that humanitarian efforts – of which churches form a significant part – remain neutral and provide for people in need wherever they are and from wherever they come,” Prove said.
Photo gallery: Russia, May 2022
Fr Ioan Sauca: “God is on the side of those who are suffering” (WCC interview, 14 April 2022)
WCC expresses abhorrence at reported atrocities in Ukraine (4 April 2022)
WCC convenes roundtable on Ukraine, calls for diplomacy instead of threats, dialogue instead of confrontation (WCC press release 30 March 2022)
WCC acting general secretary to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow: “raise up your voice so that the war can be stopped” (WCC press release, 2 March 2022)