Ukrainians will flee west – bishop

The Russian-backed separatist rebellion in Ukraine has plunged the country into its worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, according to a Ukrainian bishop who warns that “millions of refugees” could soon head west to escape starvation.

“Huge numbers are now caught between hammer and anvil,” according to Kharkiv-Zaporizhia’s Auxiliary Bishop Jan Sobilo, continuing, “the separatists aren't looking after them, and the Ukrainian government won’t care for them because they haven't declared which side they're on.”

Stressing that comparable levels of poverty and destitution had not been seen in Ukraine since World War II, he said that lack of water was the biggest problem in separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, where food prices are three times higher than elsewhere in the country. At least 100,000 people are thought to be without water in the region.

“People are continually arriving at our Catholic communities asking for food, medicines, money and shelter”, he said, these women including young widows with small children, whose husbands had been killed in the war.

Church leaders have repeatedly accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of involvement in the war, which according to a United Nations report in June has left  6,400 dead and 16,000 wounded. Moscow has rejected these claims.

“The West should get ready to accept the millions of homeless, hungry refugees who will soon head across central and western Ukraine toward Europe,” he said.

The bishop’s concerns tally with those expressed by Andrij Waskowycz, president of the Catholic charity Caritas Ukraine, who says 700,000 Ukrainians have left the country, while 1.4 million more are internally displaced by the fighting.