Ukraine needs “genuine reconciliation” in the Donbass conflict zone. “If not, there will be no way out. Although the situation is being addressed we continue to see an open-air graveyard”, declared from Kiev by the apostolic nuncio, Msgr. Claudio Gugerotti, in the aftermath of the Paris summit that brought together in the French capital Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky , together with President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. On that occasion an agreement was signed which envisages, inter alia, a new exchange of prisoners on both sides (the fixed date is 24 December) and a commitment to full-scale cease-fire measures. “These are the urgent decisions”, the nuncio remarked: “But more importantly, the involved parties pledge to reconvene within four months to verify the progress of the agreements. This pledge is a guarantee of continuity. It signifies the intention to follow a course of action without being limited to meetings that are an end in themselves.” Putin and Zelensky had a brief 15-minute talk in Paris for the first time. Msgr. Gugerotti observed: “The interpersonal climate was more relaxed. Clearly, the positions differ considerably, with different perceptions of the Minsk Accords. The way in which the autonomy of the territories is conceived also differs. These are all things that must be defined, but we are cautiously optimistic.”
Major concerns over the living conditions in Donbass. “Despite the de-escalation in terms of losses of human life in the last few months,” said the nuncio, ” the situation remains one of endless instability. The bombings continue along with children’s fears, food shortage, poor availability of medical supplies and house heating.” And then there’s the curfew. Many elderly people have to cross the border to collect their pensions in Ukrainian territory. They are forced to spend hours waiting on the border crossing points, in the open air, even at 25 degrees below zero: “A person who dies from the cold at the checkpoint while trying to get his pension, doesn’t need to be asked if he is pro-Russian or pro-Ukrainian, he must be saved.” The nuncio is pragmatic: “Either the war ends or it will be just a matter of adjustments. While until now the situation was extremely precarious, now it has become pathological and people are exhausted.” The nuncio asked a woman what kind of medicine she needed, so the next time he returned, he would bring it to her. But she replied:
“I’m only taking tranquilizers now so at least I can sleep.”
“Don’t forget us!”, is the cry from Donbass: “there are no losers or winners. Here people are suffering with no way out. A generation has been lost. The war has destroyed the economy. It wiped out all future prospects for families. It’s a cancer that devours everything.” The nuncio called on Europe to be “less distracted”, were it only “for its moral commitment that Ukraine has turned to as a point of reference in choosing European values. This decision came at a heavy price in terms of human lives and impact on the economy.” Europe is involved first of all because the ongoing conflict puts its very borders at risk, and most importantly because – “and this must be said” – some European mercenaries are fighting in the Donbass: Italians, Germans, French and American citizens.
“Nearly 13,000 people have died, a terrifying life that makes people feel like they’re living in hell. One ultimately gets used to everything: but at what price? Let’s not extinguish the small candle that has lit up!”
The nuncio described a “state of permanent crisis” leading to the systematic closure of most industries and the flight of almost two million refugees to Ukraine. He added: “So the real question is: are we Europeans seriously concerned with a situation that somehow involves us too? To keep on saying “our people first”, cannot be a political criterion, nor can it be an ethical criterion. It’s the law of the jungle.” Pope Francis’ appeal for Ukraine during the Angelus prayer was heartily received here in Ukraine. The Holy Father’s voice for this land is perhaps the only one heard. And it’s a voice of faith and concreteness. Thanks to the “Pope for Ukraine” initiative launched in June 2016, a total of EUR 16 million was donated, the result of a collection carried out in all the dioceses of Europe and of a personal donation by the Holy Father. But there must be political will at European and regional level. The nuncio appealed to the two leaders Putin and Zelensky. “The same request made by the Pope the day before the meeting in Paris:
initiate a genuine and lasting reconciliation process, driven by an authentic and fruitful yearning for peace, one capable of producing positive results for the good of the people.”