OXFORD, England — A Ukrainian Catholic leader urged the U.S. and European Union to take firmer action to stop the Russians from backing armed Ukrainian separatists.
"We desperately hope the international community will consolidate its voice, and Western governments act more coherently and consistently," said Bishop Bohdan Dzyurakh, secretary-general of the Ukrainian Catholic Synod of Bishops.
"Only firm joint action will stop the provocative, diversionary operations being conducted by Russian intelligence on Ukrainian territory, of which we now have proof, and force Russia to take its threatening army away from our border," he told Catholic News Service by telephone April 17.
As he spoke, diplomats from Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and European Union held talks in Geneva to calm an escalating situation in Ukraine. In March, Ukrainians in Crimea voted to break away from Ukraine and join Russia. April, pro-Russian protesters stormed government buildings in Donetsk, Kharkiv and other eastern Ukrainian cities, raising fears of a new Russian intervention after the March annexation of Crimea.
Bishop Dzyurakh said Ukrainian Catholic clergy had not been "directly threatened" in the protest areas, but cautioned that escalating tension could give the conflict a religious dimension.
"The U.S. and European governments guaranteed Ukraine's independence and territorial integrity -- we hope they'll take responsibility by matching their verbal declarations with concrete actions," Bishop Dzyurakh said. "The sanctions announced so far are really insufficient. Unless they honor and uphold their pledges, how can we trust them again in future?"
Bishop Dzyurakh said governments should realize that "responsibility for war lies not only with those directly causing it, but also with those who fail not do everything to prevent it."
"This is now a key moment for Europe, when it will either unite its efforts and stop the threat of war, or risk unforeseen tragic consequences," he said. "Surely we haven't lived through 70 years of peace to allow a new conflict to impose terrible sufferings on the European continent with such ease?"
In Donetsk April 17, the Council of Churches, which includes Catholic, Orthodox and other denominations, urged local officials to "take all necessary measures" to stop "rabid anti-Semitism and xenophobia" by separatist forces, after inflammatory leaflets were distributed at the city's synagogue during Passover.
Meanwhile, Donetsk police asked residents to stay away from churches in troubled districts over Easter until the situation stabilized.
The Russian Orthodox Church has been widely criticized for failing to question Moscow's actions during the crisis and for apparently endorsing claims that ethnic Russians are under attack and Orthodox churches are facing violent seizure in Ukraine.
"By remaining silent and failing to condemn this aggression against our state, the Russian Orthodox Church is failing in its duty to touch the consciences of Russia's citizens and politicians," Bishop Dzyurakh said. "At this time of Easter, we should be spreading the good news of truth, peace and love. If churches won't do this, who will?"
In an Easter message to Ukrainian Catholics, published April 16, Ukrainian Catholic Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of Kiev-Halych said his church had been "reborn to a new life" after Soviet-era persecution, adding that Ukrainians were again "threatened with weapons and intimidated."