Ukrainian officer in Mariupol writes to Pope from ‘hell on earth’

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ROME – A major of the Ukrainian army stationed in the city of Mariupol, which is currently besieged by Russian forces, is asking for Pope Francis’s help in saving Ukrainian lives from “satanic hands.” He told the pope that the citizens are living a “hell on earth.”

In an April 18 letter, Major Serhiy Volyna begged the pope to help save the people of Mariupol, a city that has seen Russia bomb several civilian sites, including a children’s and maternity hospital and a theatre where hundreds of civilians were sheltering from attacks.

“They have established their life there, provided themselves with food and water,” he said. “These people did not want and still do not want to go out. … they were aware they had more chances to stay alive here.”

“You have, perhaps, seen a lot in your life,” Volyna, the Commander of the Marines in the southeastern Ukrainian city, wrote. “However, I am certain that you have never seen what is happening in Mariupol, because this is precisely what hell on earth looks like.”

Volyna said that he doesn’t have the time to “describe all the horror that I see here every day,” with women, children and newborn infants suffering from hunger and cold, under daily fire by the enemy.

People are dying every day because there is no medication, no water and no food, he wrote.

Volyna said he was appealing for the pope to intervene because the time has come when “prayer alone” isn’t enough to save the people. Specifically, the citizens of Mariupol have lost whatever trust they had in the “Russian invaders” following the attack on the theater.

“Tell the world the truth [of what is happening here],” he implored. “Evacuate people and save their lives from the hands of the Satan who wants to burn everything [that] lives.”

The letter was published by Ukrainiska Pravda, accompanied by a picture of the major holding the April 18 letter next to his face. Ambassador Andrii Yurash of Ukraine tweeted the image on Monday evening, together with a picture of Pope Francis kissing the Ukrainian flag and two photos of Mariupol following almost 50 days of attacks. The city has been under siege since March 1.

“I am not a Catholic, I am Orthodox,” Volyna wrote in his appeal to the pope. “I believe in God and know that light always overcomes darkness.”

The officer wrote that he hasn’t been following the pope in recent days, nor has he read Francis’s latest statements, because he has been too busy fighting in a city “under total siege.”

“I am a soldier, an officer who gave my vow of allegiance to my country and I am willing to fight to the end in spite of the greater power of the enemy, in spite of the inhuman conditions on the battlefield and the constant artillery and rocket fire, the lack of water, food and medicine.”

At least 1,000 civilians, most of them women and children, are currently finding refuge in the Azovstal iron and steel plant, a sprawling industrial complex in the southeastern corner of Mariupol. The compound spans an area of more than four square miles and used to employ than 10,000 people.

The Russian army is currently trying to seize control of the plant, Volyna said.

The pope has denounced the war an average of four times a week since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began on Feb. 24.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s top diplomat, has said the Holy See is ready to help mediate if both parties agree. Ukraine has welcomed the offer, but thus far, Russia has remained silent on the proposal.

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma

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