(OSV News) — Ukrainian church leaders have warned Russians they will have to answer for savagery inflicted on their country, following the International Criminal Court’s indictment of President Vladimir Putin for war crimes.
“The world is gradually waking up to what we are suffering and giving a name to it,” said Bishop Stanislav Szyrokoradiuk of Odessa-Simferopol.
“It suited the perpetrators very well when the world resolved not to take note of the great many crimes being committed here, since this helped them spread their lies. Now, thank God, people are grasping what they’re doing more clearly.”
The bishop spoke as international investigators continued amassing evidence of war crimes following the ICC’s March 17 arrest warrant for Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, his commissioner for children’s rights, on charges of abducting Ukrainian children and deliberately targeting civilians.
Bishop Szyrokoradiuk told OSV News many Ukrainians were skeptical about the warrant’s likely impact, but he said he was personally convinced the ruling would eventually have “practical consequences.”
Meanwhile, a top Catholic aid worker said the war had “completely destroyed” relations between Ukrainians and Russians, adding that the ICC warrant has reassured humanitarian workers that “justice would one day come.”
“When we were told we should seek peace at any price, this raised issues of justice — as well as obvious questions about what’s being done to stop the crimes,” Father Vyacheslav Grynevych, executive director of the Catholic Church’s Kyiv-based Caritas-Spes, told OSV News.
“When we consider the huge engagement and solidarity of Ukrainians in this war, the thought that it will end and justice finds its place greatly helps, even if the loss of loved ones very often awakens hatred and a desire for revenge.”
The comments were made as fierce fighting continued along Ukraine’s eastern front line, accompanied by fresh Russian missile and drone strikes. In its March 17 announcement from The Hague, the ICC said it was indicting Putin and Lvova-Belova for “unlawfully deporting and transferring” Ukrainian children to the Russian Federation after Moscow’s February 2022 invasion, adding that there were “reasonable grounds” for believing the Russian president bore “individual criminal responsibility.”
The tribunal said its indictment followed yearlong investigations by a 42-member ICC team of legal and forensic experts, adding that it held jurisdiction over crimes committed on Ukrainian territory regardless of the nationality of alleged perpetrators.
In a March 20 statement, the Kremlin dismissed the warrant as “outrageous” and “legally void,” and said heads of state enjoyed “absolute immunity” under a 1973 United Nations convention.
However, legal experts said the move against Putin, the first leader of a U.N. Security Council permanent member-state to be indicted, would impede his links with 123 countries party to the ICC, and mark a significant step toward holding Russian forces accountable for war crimes.
In his OSV News interview, Bishop Szyrokoradiuk said he was unsurprised by the rejection of the court warrant by Russia, which is not an ICC party, but prayed it would bring “something permanent and lasting,” even if Moscow went on “striking, destroying and ruining” Ukraine.
“It would be strange if they didn’t scorn this ruling. When would Putin — in his service to the devil, the father of lies — ever admit his barbarism and criminality, or reckon with law and human life?” the Odessa-based bishop told OSV News.
“But God stands on the side of justice and sees everything, and I’ve no doubt the day will come when rulings like this have practical consequences. We must simply wait and pray for the moment to come when the good are rewarded and the wicked punished.”
Meanwhile, another Catholic bishop told OSV News he believed many Russian officials were “in shock” at the strength of Western reactions to the war in Ukraine, having “got used to doing what they wanted and assuming the world would stay silent.”
“On the contrary, the international community has begun to react, concluding someone has to answer for what is happening here,” said Auxiliary Bishop Jan Sobilo of Kharkiv-Zaporizhzhia.
“The ICC has charged the whole Russian state with the vast and terrible crimes being committed, and we must hope the legal moves now underway do something to halt the aggression and cruelty. This has opened up a new perspective, a sense that this war won’t last forever and that a new era will open up.”
Ukraine‘s National Information Office said it has evidence that Russia has so far illegally transported over 16,000 Ukrainian children, although other sources put the figure much higher.
Although Russia has publicly said it received thousands of orphaned and abandoned Ukrainian children in a humanitarian campaign, the UN’s Children Fund, UNICEF, warned Moscow in June 2022 against having them adopted and assigned Russian citizenship.
UNICEF estimates that 7.1 million war-affected children currently need support, and it confirmed March 27 that 1.5 million were also at risk of mental health conditions with long-term implications.
In a March 26 national message, the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kyiv-Halych, said officials from various countries had recognized the “real number” of deported children could reach “tens or hundreds of thousands,” and he thanked international institutions for branding the abductions a war crime.
Meanwhile, Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I said during a March 22 visit to Lithuania that he believed Europe was now “waking up from a deep illusion that war was a thing of the past,” adding that Orthodox church leaders in Russia must also share complicity in “such crimes as the shocking kidnap of Ukrainian children.”
In his OSV News interview, Father Grynevych said many Ukrainians were saddened at how comprehensively their once-close “economic, political and inter-human ties” with Russia had been shattered by the war, fuelling grassroots contempt for Russian culture and society.
“Those who’ve faced this violent aggression will find it very difficult to have any future relationship with people who’ve inflicted such hurt and injury. Every signal of help from the international community towards rebuilding our country has become supremely important for us,” the Caritas-Spes director said.
Bishop Sobilo said many people in Zaporizhzhia, especially with young children, have made new plans to leave after six Russian missiles hit the southeastern city March 22, killing at least two civilians and injuring 33 in a nine-floor apartment block.
He added that he would invite leaders of countries still maintaining friendly ties with Russia to spend a few hours visiting the devastated towns of Bucha, Izyum and Bakhmut, as well as front-line cities such as Mariupol and Avdiivka, so they could “see reality with their own eyes.”
A March 27 World Bank report estimated the bill for reconstruction in Ukraine currently stood at $411 billion.
Jonathan Luxmoore writes for OSV News from Oxford, United Kingdom.