By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
BUDAPEST/KYIV (Worthy News) – U.S President Joe Biden rushed to sign a new $40 billion package of military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine Saturday as Russia claimed its most significant military victory in Ukraine so far, capturing Mariupol. Russia’s claim came after a nearly three-month siege that reduced much of the strategic port city of Mariupol to a smoking ruin in fighting that also impacted churches.
Hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers, some injured, were paraded through the streets of the bombed-out city of Mariupol, where authorities say at least 20,000 people have died in relentless Russian shelling. They are among those leaving the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol — the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance.
The troops were led by Ukraine’s Azov Regiment, whose far-right origins have been seized by Moscow to cast them as “neo-Nazis.” Moscow says the city and its steel plant are, in its words, “completely liberated” after 531 Ukrainian troops left the site.
It comes after the first war trial began in Ukraine against a Russian soldier suspected of killing a civilian. But the Russian military also suffered heavy losses, including around Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city. Russian troops were pushed back from Kharkiv. After that, there was talk of Ukrainian soldiers marching onto the Russian border only 25 miles (40 kilometers) away. But that seems to have been premature.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zekensky has warned of tough battles ahead in nearby areas of eastern Ukraine. “The Ukrainian armed forces continue to make progress in liberating the Lharkov region. But the occupiers are trying to further the pressure in the Donbas area. It’s hell, and that’s not an overstatement,” he told his nation in a video message.
But there is a spiritual battle ongoing as well.
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) says it gives more than half a million euros in so-called “Mass stipends” to support priests in Ukraine.
The funding is for priests holding Mass and caring for people besieged and under bombardment. ACN stressed that it supports almost 1,900 Catholic priests across the country, including 137 from the Greek Catholic archdiocese in Kyiv.
“In our archdiocese, priests are on a rota and take turns to serve. I have been back in the capital for two months,” Archpriest Vitaliy Herasymiv, Treasurer of the Archdiocese of Kyiv, tells ACN.
With the help of Social Services, which has a list of internally displaced people, Vitaliy organized the distribution of humanitarian aid and set up a humanitarian support center in his parish.
Before Easter, he visited soldiers at checkpoints, which is also part of the work. “We prayed together; we asked God to protect them and protect Ukraine and prayed for peace in the world.“
However, the situation in the capital is still tense, he said in a statement distributed by ACN. “Kyiv remains restless. Some days ago, several missiles struck a residential building. There are serious problems with fuel. Most petrol stations are closed, and at those which are open you can only put in 10 or 20 liters. There are very long queues,” Vitaliy explained.
The Archdiocese of Kyiv is looking for help to purchase cars for its priests. “There are priests who do not have a car or whose car is in very poor condition. In times of war, it is essential that the priest is mobile and can reach people and provide humanitarian or spiritual help,” he said.
For now, the priests are busy helping others, but in the future, Vitaliy added, they too will need support. “Many of them have been under a lot of tension and stress the whole time and have experienced terrible things. Priests give out to people, but they also must get strength from somewhere.”
Priests and Catholic aid workers say there is much to talk about and that conversation helps heal wounds and drive away fear.
They are also among those hoping that Moscow will end a naval blockade in the Black Sea that has impacted domestic and global food supplies.
The head of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), David Beasley, appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the blockade as it impacts the import and export of one of Ukraine’s most important commodities: grain. “It is absolutely essential that we allow these ports to open because this is not just about Ukraine. This is about the poorest of the poor around the world who are on the brink of starvation as we speak,” Beasley said. He told Putin: “If you have any heart at all, please open these ports.”
Beasley’s appeal at a U.N. food security meeting came as the WFP feeds some 125 million people and buys 50 percent of its grain from Ukraine.
However, for now, battles continue in a war that killed tens of thousands and uprooted millions more.
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