Nuclear threat heightens fears for Ukraine and the world

Olena Kycha, a Ukrainian refugee in Toronto, waves the Ukraine flag amid rush hour traffic at Yonge and Bloor Streets in downtown Toronto. (Photo by Michael Swan, The Catholic Register, CCN)

By Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News] –  As Russian President Vladimir Putin drafts thousands of young men into his army and rattles his nuclear sabre at the West, Olena Kycha continues waving her Ukrainian flag amid the rush hour traffic at the corner of Yonge and Bloor Streets in downtown Toronto.

The 31-year-old refugee — who has been five months in Canada, making a living on her bicycle delivering for Uber — wants Canadians to know the threat her family lives under back home in Chenihiv, within sight of the Russian and Belarussian borders. The way Kycha sees it, the world’s largest nuclear arsenal is in the hands of a madman.

“He can do anything. We never know what he is going to do from one day to another,” she said. “He’s crazy. He has mental problems, I guess.”

The daily protest at Yonge and Bloor was launched more than 200 days ago by retiree Dave Perks, who spends his afternoons at Toronto’s busiest intersection with flags and buttons and a willingness to talk to just about anybody. Protesting against nuclear annihilation and an unprovoked war is not a waste of time, Perks told The Catholic Register.

“Of course it matters. Everyone has to take a stand,” he said.

Pope Francis’ stand has become more easily defined as his attempts to encourage Russia to negotiate a peace have met with a wall of indifference surrounding Moscow. At the end of August the Vatican made it clear Pope Francis knows Russia is in the wrong.

“As for the large-scale war in Ukraine, initiated by the Russian Federation, the interventions of the Holy Father Pope Francis are clear and unequivocal in condemning it as morally unjust, unacceptable, barbaric, senseless, repugnant and sacrilegious,” the Vatican press office said in a release.

After listening to Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow Kirill on a video call in March read prepared remarks that echoed Putin’s justifications for war, Pope Francis told the Patriarch he could not be “Putin’s altar boy.”

On his way home from three days in Kazakhstan for the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions — Kirill backed out of the meeting — Pope Francis told reporters Sept. 15 it is “morally acceptable” to arm Ukraine as she defends herself. Self-defence in the face of aggression is “not only lawful but also an expression of love of country,” the Pope said.

Back in Rome, Pope Francis tweeted a reminder of his constant teaching on the immorality of nuclear weapons.

“The use of atomic energy for purposes of war is today, more than ever, a crime not only against the dignity of human beings but against any possible future for our common home,” the @Pontifex account tweeted Sept. 26.

Canada’s large community of Ukrainian Catholics knows the truth of Pope Francis’ stand against the war, said Fr. Myroslaw Tataryn, Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada spokesperson.

“As Pope Francis and many previous pontiffs have made clear, the baseless invasion of another state is indefensible. The moral right of a country or a person to act in self-defence is long-standing in Catholic teaching,” said Tataryn in an email.

Nor should anyone pass off Putin’s “this is not a bluff” threat to use nuclear weapons as mere politics.

“It is significant that the threatened use has only been heard from the aggressor state. Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal in 1994 in exchange for what has been revealed as empty promises from Russia and leading Western states to guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Tataryn said.

“Our eparchy continues to pray for the Ukrainian people and those who in many ways, on a daily basis, place their lives in danger in defence of their freedom and the freedom of millions of Ukrainian citizens.”

While the war pounds on, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association has distributed more than $5.5 million in Canadian emergency aid to Ukraine.

“We are seeing large numbers of individuals are displaced and in desperate need of help,” CNEWA project officer Anna Dombrovska said in a release. “We are working closely with our partners on the ground to ensure that help is reaching those who need it most.”

Those partners include the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Caritas Ukraine and the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. The aid is reaching people in large cities and in remote villages in every part of the country, CNEWA said.

Olena Kycha wants to put down her flag, give up her delivery job and go back to her life as an illustrator and graphic designer in Ukraine. But not until the war is over. “So it’s going to be safe going on a picnic,” she said.