Friday 24th February 2023 marked the first anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Services and events took place across London, where over 16,000 Ukrainians are believed to have settled since arriving in the UK during the past year.
The human cost of this conflict has been considerable, from direct loss of life (it is estimated that over 8,000 adult civilians have been killed and over 13,000 injured) and the parting of families as men remain to fight and women and children are displaced, either within Ukraine itself or beyond the country’s borders. The immense disruption to everyday life cannot easily be measured. In a sense, the conflict has become everybody’s war, with many nations involved in providing long-term shelter and relief to those who have fled from the fighting. Many have taken flight into Europe, and in the UK alone 160k visas have been issued to Ukrainians since February last year.
Don’t forget the Ukrainian people
With so many natural disasters and disagreements across the globe at this time, it is easy to forget the plight of the Ukrainian people. Most want to return to their homeland eventually, but whilst living in the UK they still require somewhere safe to reside, and also need assistance in finding doctors, school places, mental & emotional support, and means by which to live. It is estimated that 60% of those who have made their way to the UK have found some form of work, thereby contributing to our society.
Through the Homes for Ukraine Scheme, there is government support to enable those who can sponsor and provide accommodation to open up their hearts and homes, whilst organisations such as the Ukrainian Welcome Centre in London provide not only English classes for Ukrainians residing in the UK, but also booklets on language, culture and customs for sponsors. As the war continues into a second year, the need for housing and sponsorship is very much required.
First Anniversary Service
At 9 am on 24th February 2023 an Ecumenical and Interfaith Prayer Service for peace took place in the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile. One hundred and sixty children participated from St Mary’s; a Ukrainian School based in West London. The service was led by Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski and attended by several faith leaders, who offered prayers, including Archbishop John Wilson, our newly consecrated Bishop Philip Moger, and Monsignor Keith Newton: Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Alongside refugees and children, many clergy helped to carry a total of 52 decorated candles (one of mark each week of the war) into the Cathedral. A beautiful but disquieting display of 462 paper angels was also suspended above those who had come to pray; one for each child that has been registered as killed during the war.
The service was also attended by Sadiq Khan, who recently announced the governmental provision of £126 million pounds to fund up to 600 affordable new homes for Ukrainian and Afghan refugees. The scheme will be known as the Refugee Housing Programme (RHP) and will run until March 2024.
Following the prayers, Mr Khan and the Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK, His Excellency Mr Vadym Prystaiko addressed the congregation, condemning the war and calling for peace. Also in attendance was Boris Johnson, who made early strides to stand in solidarity with the Ukraine at the outset of the conflict.
After the service a minute’s silence was held at 11 am for those who had lost their lives in the conflict.
Peace, support and forgiveness
In a press conference, held the day before the First Anniversary, Bishop Nowakowski explained that prior to the war, 80% of Ukrainians described themselves to be people of faith, and that the Catholic churches had been offering sanctuary, humanitarian aid, refuge, food packages and emotional and spiritual support throughout the crisis. He also explained that in many Ukrainian parishes, the priest had chosen not to flee, even in occupied territories, choosing instead to share the suffering of the people.
The Season of Lent will commence this weekend for Eastern Christians, with Forgiveness Sunday. When asked how this would resonate with Ukrainians this year, the Bishop explained
“This coming Sunday will be challenging as we are all asked to forgive our enemies for what they may have done to us… we are meant to forgive each other… it is hard to forgive when you know the other side does not feel any remorse or guilt, but that's what it is all about for people of faith and hope. This faith and hope can only be shown by how we live differently”.
Archbishop John Wilson offered his thoughts on the service and prayer for Ukraine:
“I was honoured and humbled to join my friend Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski, the Bishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church at the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile in London for a service of prayer for peace on the first anniversary of the war against Ukraine.
Prayer for Peace
God our loving Father,
when you created our world, and the human race,
war was never part of your plan for us.
You created us to live as brothers and sisters in peace and justice.
You created us to respect the dignity of every person and of our homeland.
You created us to cherish each other as members of one family, across different nations and continents.
Today, Heavenly Father, we cry out to you and beg for an end to war.
Today, we bring you the tears of families torn apart by conflict, of mothers and fathers who have lost their children, and of children who have lost their parents.
Today, we ask you to turn waring hearts away from self-serving aggression towards that peace which we struggle to find, but which is the gift of your Risen Son.
Father, we place our trust in you for new hope and a peaceful new beginning, through Christ the Prince of Peace. Amen.
Holy and Blessed Virgin Mary, pray for your people ravaged by war, bring comfort by your maternal intercession, that lasting peace will prevail. Amen
- Archbishop John Wilson
Other events for the first anniversary of the Ukrainian war included an Ecumenical Memorial Service in Holland Park and a candlelit procession from Holland Park to the Russian Embassy.
Beyond the Church, many iconic London buildings and structures, such as the London Eye, the Oxo Tower and Southbank Centre proudly expressed their accord by displaying the colours of the Ukrainian flag.
Overcoming the darkness
The Archdiocese of Southwark stands firmly in solidarity with Ukraine. Please pray, without ceasing, for a peaceful worldwide resolution to this conflict, which has claimed too many lives and caused bodily injury and unnecessary emotional distress. We pray for the strength and generosity of heart to forgive those who have instigated conflict and sought to cause harm to others.
Finally, we pray that we may not deepen the darkness that has been inflicted, but through our actions and prayers, meet and overcome darkness with the Light of Christ. We also pray for the success of the Holy See's diplomacy initiative to help put an end to this war.