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Ukrainian Catholic leader appeals for Orthodox Easter prisoner exchange

Protest in support of Ukrainian prisoners of war

RUSLAN KANIUKA | NurPhoto via AFP

John Burger - published on 05/02/24

His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk echoes Pope Francis' call for an "all-for-all" release, but particularly women, doctors, and priests.

Noting that Russians and Ukrainians will both be venerating the same icon during this weekend’s Orthodox Easter, the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church called on Christians from the two warring nations to “stand on both sides of the front line, holding the hand of Christ, who will lead our brothers and sisters, women, doctors, and clergy out of the hell of captivity.”

His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, major archbishop of Kyiv, echoed Pope Francis’s call on Easter (March 31) for an “all-for-all” exchange of prisoners of war. Sviatoslav focused on three categories of prisoners to be freed so that they could be home in time for May 5, which is Pascha, or Easter, celebrated according to the Julian calendar in Ukraine and Russia.

In his weekly video address for the 115th week of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, Sviatoslav said that Ukrainian Christians understand that “we cannot truly honor the Passion of our Savior, His wounds, without serving and assisting those who are suffering from the hell of war, especially those imprisoned and tortured by the Russians.”

“The words of Pope Francis, spoken on Easter Sunday according to the Latin [Gregorian] Paschal calendar, regarding the ‘all-for-all’ exchange, have deeply resonated in the hearts of both Ukrainians and Russians,” he said. “We hope these words will serve as a call to concrete action.”

In his Urbi et Orbi message on Easter Sunday, Pope Francis said, “In calling for respect for the principles of international law, I express my hope for a general exchange of all prisoners between Russia and Ukraine: all for the sake of all!”

Direct appeal to Russian Christians

Sviatoslav echoed that call, in particular for the release of women prisoners of war, medical workers, and priests. 

“Let’s unite our efforts to secure the release of women from captivity, whether in Ukraine or Russia, so that they can return to their families and homes on Easter,” Sviatoslav said. “Let’s do everything in our power to ensure that medical workers return home. We urge the Easter exchange of doctors and nurses who, according to international law, are not combatants. I call on international medical organizations, in particular Médecins Sans Frontières [Doctors Without Borders], to make every effort to facilitate the return of doctors from detention to their families and to resume their professional duties.”

Saying he knows at least 10 priests being held by Russia, the patriarch made an appeal to the international religious community: “Can’t the whole world ensure that these 10 clergymen sing ‘Christ is risen’ in their churches this Easter?”

The head of the Ukrainian Church also made a direct appeal to the faithful of the Russian Orthodox Church: “I know that people in Russia are also listening to us,” he said. “The call of Pope Francis has deeply resonated in the hearts of ordinary Russians. We understand that Russian Orthodox Christians will venerate and kiss the icon of Christ ‘Descent into Hades’ on Easter. As Christians, we all worship the Lord who rescues humanity from hell, who takes Adam and Eve out of their tombs. Therefore, let us Christians stand on both sides of the front line, holding the hand of Christ, who will lead our brothers and sisters, women, doctors, and clergy out of the hell of captivity.”

“We are aware that approximately 8,000 Ukrainian servicemen and 1,600 civilians are currently in Russian captivity, enduring hellish conditions,” he continued. “Let’s do everything to ensure that the exchange of ‘all for all’ becomes a reality this Easter, step by step.”

Tags:
EasterPope FrancisRussiaUkraineWar
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