UK

Ukrainian Catholic church in UK marks ‘tragic’ two-year anniversary of invasion

Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski said the anniversary was a ‘sad’ date but that the Ukrainian community in the UK had ‘not felt abandoned’.

Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski during a press conference at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London
Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski during a press conference at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London (Lucy North/PA)

The leader of the Ukrainian Catholic community in the UK said it was “tragic” to have to mark the approaching second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski said the anniversary was a “sad” date but that Ukrainians in the UK had “not felt abandoned”.

He said there was a “mood and a hope” among Ukrainian refugees that they would be able to return to their home country, but added he was “not sure” how realistic that prospect was.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began on February 24 2022 and followed the Kremlin’s military intervention in the eastern Donbas region and its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

At a press conference at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in central London on Thursday morning, Bishop Nowakowski said the war had been a “tragic two-year period”.

Sitting in front of a Ukrainian flag and a Union flag, Bishop Nowakowski said: “We know that there are over 280,000 people that have arrived here seeking shelter since the full-scale invasion and that has had a major impact on our pastoral needs here in the UK.

“We’ve also had a great response and co-operation from other faith communities so we have not been alone.

“We have not felt abandoned and we’ve also had very good relations with the UK Government.”

Bishop Nowakowski referenced the visit by the King to the cathedral on November 30 2022 to commemorate the opening of the Ukrainian Welcome Centre.

Ukrainian refugee Nataliya Zayats said her country must be “independent” so Ukrainians can live in “peace”.

Ms Zayats has lived in Doncaster and Borehamwood since coming to the UK from Kharkiv in July 2022 and thanked the Government for its refugee scheme.

She told the PA news agency: “Ukrainian children and women who live in the UK now have an opportunity to live in peace.”

The 48-year-old, who came to the UK with her daughter, said children in Kharkiv were having to study “underground” because of the war and that she wanted to return to her “beautiful country”.

“I must return to Ukraine because it’s my country. I must work for my country – I must rebuild my country.”

Olesya Khromeychuk, director of the Ukrainian Institute London, said Ukraine had been given “a lot of support” in terms of military equipment over the last two years, but “never enough to win”.

Olesya Khromeychuk, director of the Ukrainian Institute London, during a press conference at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London
Russian invasion of Ukraine Olesya Khromeychuk, director of the Ukrainian Institute London, during a press conference at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London (Lucy North/PA)

She added that this had “facilitated Russia’s ability to dig in” and that Ukraine had been “resisting” Moscow for 10 years rather than just the last two.

Ms Khromeychuk said: “This time two years ago, most of the commentators around the world gave Ukraine between two days and two weeks to last.

“And two years later, of course, Ukrainians are standing strong and continuing to fight.

She said the length of the war depends on the “level of support” given to Ukraine, adding that delays “benefit Russia”.

Ms Khromeychuk said: “This war is not just existential for Ukraine. It’s existential for Ukrainians because they’re fighting for their survival and that of the state – but it’s also existential when it comes to the survival of the democratic order around the world.”

The second anniversary of the invasion comes a week after the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Petro Rewko, chairman of the Association of Ukrainians in Great Britain, said Mr Navalny was “killed without a doubt”.

On Saturday, an ecumenical interreligious prayer service will be held at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral to mark the anniversary of the invasion.

This will be followed by a march in central London organised by Ukrainian community organisations ending in a vigil in Trafalgar Square.

Mr Rewko said Ukrainians were “extremely grateful” to the UK for its support and assistance.

At the press conference, he said: “We are calling for individuals and organisations across the UK to participate in events and rallies to show continuing solidarity with Ukrainians in Ukraine and across the world.”

He added he wanted the UK Government to further strengthen sanctions against Russia, establish an international tribunal for war crimes and to work with international partners to “bring every illegally abducted child back home to Ukraine”.