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Archbishop Welby Was Tender and Tough in Ukraine

Archbishop Welby visits with a Ukrainian boy assembling a model. | Archbishop Welby’s website

During a five-day return trip to Ukraine, the Archbishop of Canterbury showed pastoral concern, indignation, and grace under pressure. Archbishop Justin Welby first visited the nation in December 2022. “It was profoundly moving and humbling to meet people here in late 2022, to see first-hand the heroism of people who have been through hell,” he said on February 5, as he returned by train. “It has stayed with me and I felt a deep call to return.”

Welby met again with members of Christ Church, a small Anglican congregation that meets in a German Lutheran church in Kyiv. The church still shows a photo of Welby’s 2022 visit on its Facebook page.

He invoked the memory of Winston Churchill in comparing Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to Britain’s wartime prime minister. Welby was responding to Iryna Vereshchuk, deputy prime minister of Ukraine and minister for reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories, as she described the nation’s difficulties under long-term siege.

“Churchill would have recognized what you just said and I think we’re all deeply moved by your emotion and the power of your words,” the archbishop told her. “He had the words, as your president did in London last February when I heard him speak.

“An old man standing next to me … who remembered the great speakers in England said, ‘It is 60 years since I heard a speech so powerful in this building.’ I agreed. What you have reminded us of is that this is not a technocratic problem. It is the survival of a people — of families, mothers, fathers, children, brothers, sisters, friends.”

As with his previous visit Ukraine, Welby took shelter during a air-raid warning, this time during a visit to the Heritage Ukraine crisis center and shelter. The Church Times reported that as the archbishop sat in the shelter, he worked on papers regarding safeguarding in the Church of England and the church’s protracted debate about Living in Love and Faith.

He took time to record a 30-second video in the air-raid shelter. “This is the reality for people who live here. We’re going home and they have to stay,” Welby said in a hushed, somber tone. “It is very serious for them, and my heart goes out to them.”

Welby was most pointed in responding to Vladimir Putin’s appeal to religious concerns in justifying Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“There is an argument in favour of debate, discussion, appeal, but there is no argument in favour of armed force. The invasion of Ukraine was a self-chosen, unjust, unjustifiable attack on a neighbor,” he said. “This war is evil.”

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