LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Calling the crisis in Ukraine “a tragedy that is unfolding before our very eyes,” the Ukrainian Catholic Bishop for Britain said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “interested – at all costs – in reforming” something like the Soviet Union.

“Of course, our Ukrainian people are very concerned with the situation that is unfolding very rapidly in Ukraine,” Bishop Kenneth Nowakowski told the news website of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

Moscow has amassed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine in recent weeks and is holding military drills at multiple locations in Russia. That has led the United States, the United Kingdom, and other NATO countries to prepare for a possible war.

Putin has demanded NATO permanently bar Ukraine from membership, cease expanding the alliance in general, and not deploy forces to its members in Eastern Europe. NATO has rejected these demands out of hand.

Ukraine had been part of the Russian Empire for centuries and was a constituent member of the Soviet Union until it disintegrated in 1991. Despite its independence, Moscow has long viewed the country as being part of its “sphere of influence.”

Nowakowski said the current crisis “is causing great concern, but this isn’t something new.”

“In 2014, a war was started by Russia with Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea, which is territorially Ukrainian, and also Eastern Ukraine. Thousands, more than 14,000 Ukrainian people have died in this war since 2014 and more than a million people have become internally displaced – having to flee their homes in Eastern Ukraine. It is a humanitarian disaster like we have never seen before in Europe since the Second World War,” the bishop said.

The interview was conducted in conjunction with Pope Francis’s call for a day of prayer for peace in the Ukraine on Jan. 26, in which the worldwide Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church took part.

However, Nowakowski said the situation in Ukraine had wider consequences.

“Ukraine, of course, is the largest country in Europe, which I think is surprising for many people to find out. It is larger than Germany and larger than France and has a population of about 46 million people. It stands, in many ways, between the Russian Federation and the European Union, with its borders bordering Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldavia and Romania, and of course, the Black Sea and Russia on its Eastern borders,” the bishop said.

“Why is Mr. Putin so interested in Ukraine? Well, he has said that the greatest tragedy of this past century is the collapse of the Soviet Union – a statement that I think is very hard for us to understand when the greatest tragedies of this past century have to have been the Second World War, the First World War, the Holocaust, the Holodomor in Ukraine [the Soviet-imposed famine that killed at least 3.5 million people] and other devastating things that have happened – including the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. So if we have a person in charge of the Russian Federation who feels that the greatest tragedy in the past century was the collapse of the Soviet Union, it’s no wonder that he is interested – at all costs – in reforming such an organization,” Nowakowski told the English bishops’ website.

“Let’s be frank, war kills. People are dying. People are being maimed. Households are being destroyed. Families are being torn apart. This is a tragedy that is unfolding before our very eyes,” he added.

The bishop said the international community can continue to apply pressure on Russia to stop the threat of invasion – not only to Ukraine, but to other countries.

But he also said ordinary people can help bring peace to Ukraine through prayer.

“We can pray along with the Ukrainian people and people of goodwill throughout the world for peace because it will not only be Ukrainians or Ukrainian citizens who will suffer in this, it’ll also be Russian citizens whose fathers, brothers, husbands will be involved in the fighting and will also be suffering,” Nowakowski said.

“We can stand up for truth. We all have heard this term ‘fake news’ so many times over the past several years, but we can find the truth and stand for the truth. This threat of war, of course, is something that continues to cause us fear and anxiety. But fear and anxiety can be overcome when we talk about it in our community, when we pray about it in our community.”

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome