A Ukrainian Catholic leader said on Thursday that the besieged city of Mariupol — the “City of Mary” — has been transformed into a cemetery by Russian bombardment.
In a video message issued on March 10, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk lamented what he described as the “mass murder” of Ukrainians following Russia’s full-scale invasion.
“Today my conscience and the conscience of every Christian demands that we raise our voices throughout the world and loudly say the word ‘No,’ to declare strong opposition to the mass murder of people in Ukraine,” he said.
“Especially in these last moments, we see mass murder in the besieged city of Mariupol. This city, which was founded by the Greek community as the ‘City of Mary,’ has been transformed into a cemetery for tens of thousands of people.”
He went on: “Yesterday we saw horrific scenes of the bombarding of a maternity ward as well as scenes of mass graves, common burials, where hundreds of lifeless bodies are laid to rest.”
“Today we must say throughout the world: No! No to mass murder in Ukraine! Since the time of Nazism and Stalin’s repressions, Ukraine has not seen such mass burials in common graves, without honor, without Christian prayer.”
The U.N. human rights office reported on March 9 that it had recorded 1,424 civilian casualties in Ukraine, with 516 people killed and 908 injured. It said that the actual figures were likely to be “considerably higher.”
A priest fleeing Mariupol, a port city on the Azov Sea in southeastern Ukraine, told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on Sunday that the city was “hell.”
The priest, identified only as Father Pavlo, said: “Mariupol is like Armageddon. It is hell. Please tell the world: it is a tragedy. There is just shooting at random. The whole town is like one big battlefield. Everywhere bombs are falling. Everywhere you just hear shooting. Mariupol is a city surrounded by the Russian army. The people are just sitting in their basements.”
Shevchuk said that Mariupol has a population of almost 400,000 people.
“For almost two weeks the city is under complete siege. People are dying from hunger. People are dying from the cold. On their heads there are falling on rockets, shells, bombs,” the 51-year-old major archbishop commented.
“Today we must remember them and, in their name, speak to the conscience of the whole world. We beseech you: Open humanitarian corridors! Give women, children, and the elderly an opportunity to leave this cold, besieged city. Give us the opportunity to send food and medicine there. Give us an opportunity to rescue people.”
“In the name of the city of Mariupol, let us appeal to the whole world: Save the skies over Ukraine! Do everything possible to close the Ukrainian skies to Russian weapons and Russian aviation dropping bombs on peaceful inhabitants.”
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin expressed dismay on Wednesday at the bombing of hospital facilities in Mariupol.
He told a reporter at an event in Rome on March 9 that “it is unacceptable to bomb a hospital.”
“There are no reasons or motivations for doing so,” the Vatican’s top diplomat said.
Meanwhile, the archbishop of the capital city of Belarus has asked Catholics to pray a novena for peace.
Archbishop Iosif Staneuski appealed to laypeople and clergy in the archdiocese of Minsk-Mohilev to pray the novena to St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church.
The Belarusian government, led by President Alexander Lukashenko, is closely allied with Russia.
In his video message, Shevchuk urged priests and bishops of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic community worldwide to share “the truth about the genocide of the Ukrainian people.”
“In all our churches, I ask that you serve memorial services for the reposed for all those who were buried in common graves without Christian prayer and a funeral,” he said.