Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has thwarted efforts by Pope Francis to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian Archbishop Borys Gudziak said on March 15.
“I’m convinced that [Pope Francis] has made every effort to speak to Putin and I have some information that he has not gotten responses to his gestures towards Patriarch Kirill, but I think that will change,” said Gudziak, head of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia. “I’m hoping the Russian Church leadership will open up and hear the Gospel.”
Gudziak made the comments at a March 15 news conference alongside Oksana Markarova, ambassador of Ukraine to the United States. They spoke about the state of their home nation, its urgent militaristic and humanitarian needs, and further actions the U.S. and other ally nations can take related to sanctions and domestic refugee policy.
Gudziak said his knowledge of Pope Francis’s desire to speak with Putin came from a conversation the two shared five weeks before the Russian invasion. While Pope Francis’s reluctance to mention both Russia and Putin by name since the invasion began has been questioned, Gudziak praised the pontiff “for doing everything he can behind the scenes,” citing his recent unprecedented visit to the Russian Embassy to the Holy See.
During the news conference, Gudziak also doubled down on his recent criticisms of Kirill for his role in the invasion. The archbishop criticized Kirill multiple times. He particularly pointed to the patriarch giving an icon of Mary to the leader of the Russian National Guard while the invasion was happening, calling them “war criminals.”
“It’s very sad that today the Russian Orthodox Church and its leadership stands with President Putin,” Gudziak said. “It stands for this war. It stands against the defense of innocence.”
A nation that needs support
Gudziak likened the war in Ukraine to the biblical message of David vs. Goliath, claiming that “we can be confident that the Lord will be with the people who love.” However, in the same way that David’s physical traits were inferior to Goliath’s, Gudziak highlighted the reality of the war: Ukraine is outnumbered in resources 10 to one.
That’s why Gudziak said the question of the moment is how the world will continue to help.
“There’s been a massive response, but to put it bluntly: What good is it if you feed the stomachs of these children, these women, these people in cities if their brains are being blown out? If their apartment buildings are going to be rendered to rubble?” Gudziak said. “There needs to be massive defensive and massive humanitarian aid.”
Markarova made a plea for military support.
“Right now, the Ukrainian armed forces, President Zelenskyy, men, women, everyone in Ukraine is very resolute and we know that we will not surrender,” Markarova said. “We will fight for our home and all we need from all of our partners is an immediate increase in military support in order to be able to sustain the fight.”
Markarova added that getting more weapons and tools to Ukrainian soldiers is the top priority. She noted that weapons that will stave off Russian air attacks are especially critical “to protect Ukraine from this brutal attack they are doing from the air.”
As of March 12, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had documented 1,663 civilian casualties in Ukraine: 596 killed and 1,067 injured. Many of the casualties were the result of Russian airstrikes.
The second biggest need Markarova identified is humanitarian assistance inside Ukraine, especially to the cities that are encircled by Russian forces. She called on world leaders to work together to force Russia to allow humanitarian corridors.
Finally, Markarova said more sanctions are essential.
“We have to isolate Russia completely. They cannot be in any international organizations,” Markarova said. “They cannot sit around the table unless they stop this brutal aggression, ceasefire, and get out of our country.”
Gudziak highlighted the need for the U.S. to establish a policy and a process to accept Ukrainian refugees if it intends to do so. The archbishop said the U.S. is “way behind European countries” on creating a refugee policy. He noted that his offices have received “countless phone calls of people who are willing to receive refugees, but they can’t get visas.”
The Biden administration has signaled a willingness to accept Ukrainian refugees, though it hasn’t mentioned what that would look like, or a plan to do so. The number of Ukrainian refugees since the invasion began surpassed three million on March 15, according to UN data – 3,000,381 was the reported total.
“This needs to be very clearly addressed,” Gudziak said.
Gudziak, who is the president of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, called on American universities to step up as well. He called for the creation of scholarship programs for Ukrainian students already in the U.S., who are potentially displaced from their home country as a result of the invasion, and additional programs for students that come to the U.S. as refugees.
Gudziak, as he has done since before the invasion began, also emphasized the importance of staying informed and recognizing the truth. He did so by referencing the actions of the previous three U.S. presidents, and how things might be different today if they had approached Russia differently back then.
The archbishop cited President George Bush in 2001 declaring Putin “very straightforward and trustworthy;” Barack Obama ridiculing Mitt Romney in 2012 after Romney said that Russia is the greatest geopolitical challenge for the U.S.; and President Donald Trump on the second day of the Russian invasion calling it an act of genius.
“These kinds of naive, ignorant, or willfully negative stances are influencers,” Gudziak said. “It’s very important to understand what the truth on the ground is and today that message is slowly getting out but there are still very many purveyors of misinformation and this needs to be countered.”
Assessing the present circumstances, Markarova said when the war ends is entirely up to Putin. “There is nothing Ukraine did to start it and there is nothing we can do to actually stop them shooting at us. It’s up to them,” she said. “We have a saying in Ukraine that if Russia stops shooting the war will stop. If Ukraine stops shooting today our country will disappear.”