ROME (OSV News) -- Ukraine’s ambassador to the Holy See said the onslaught of attacks on Odesa and several surrounding cities shows that Russia’s actions are no different than the actions of a terrorist organization.
Speaking with OSV News at his office in Rome July 20, Ambassador Andrii Yurash said that Russia’s bombardment of grain storages in Ukraine is a desperate response to its failure to take over the country.
"For terrorists, when there is no other possibility of escape, (they only) escalate their attacks," he said. "I think now we are reaching the most dramatic point as Russia understands that it is really in the position of a terrorist and the whole world is completely losing any trust (in them)," he pointed.
The attacks began July 17 after Russia withdrew from the Black Sea grain deal, which allowed for grain exports to continue to be shipped out despite the war.
According to the European Commission, Ukraine "accounts for 10% of the world wheat market, 13% of the barley market, 15% of the maize (corn) market, and is the most important player in the market for sunflower oil (over 50% of world trade)."
However, Russia’s withdrawal from the deal, and its launch of missiles on the port cities of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Mykolaiv, prompted renewed fears of global food insecurity.
Russian missiles also targeted populated areas in Odesa, killing one person and wounding more then 20 people, as well as causing significant damage to the Transfiguration Orthodox Cathedral, a UNESCO world heritage site, July 23.
In a statement released by his spokesperson, UN Secretary General António Guterres condemned "the appalling toll the war is taking on civilian lives" as well as the attack on "an area protected under the World Heritage Convention."
"The Secretary-General urges the Russian Federation to immediately cease attacks against cultural property protected by widely ratified international normative instruments. The Secretary-General also continues to urge immediate cessation of all attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure," the statement said.
Yurash told OSV News that with this latest attack on Ukraine’s port cities, the world must stop viewing "Russia as a normal, active partner state."
"Everybody has to take into account that we have the same situation like with Osama bin Laden, for example. When he was closed in his small area, he made some of the cruelest (actions against) his people."
Russia wants to inflict "as much harm as possible for Ukraine, and for the rest of the world," he added. "So this logic completely correlates with my analogy (comparing Russia) with a terrorist."
Nevertheless, Yurash said that there is some hope on the horizon, especially with the Vatican’s humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.
Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, Pope Francis' special envoy, met July 18 with U.S. President Joe Biden to discuss several issues, including negotiating the repatriation of Ukrainian children forcibly deported to Russia.
"Generally speaking, I am very much enthusiastic and positive about this mission," Yurash said. "It shows that the Holy See is trying to do something, to be involved in the process."
He also said the Vatican’s focus on humanitarian efforts rather than peace efforts are "pragmatic and realistic" given Russia’s unwillingness to meet Ukraine’s conditions for negotiating peace, which include the restoration of territories and compensation for material losses.
"Some abstract, some very general idea of peace surely is very beautiful, but it does not correlate with the reality and with what is realistic because the peace (wanted by Russia) will be at the cost of Ukraine," Yurash said.
Therefore, he added, Cardinal Zuppi "is trying to concentrate on some very concrete and practical aspects of his mission; not only the exchange of prisoners but first and foremost, the return of children who were stolen by Russia."
Yurash told OSV News that Ukrainian authorities recently discovered that Ukrainian children were also taken into Belarus, one of Russia’s few allies in its war, and that "several European leaders have addressed the European parliament about investigating and prosecuting the Belarusians" for their role in the process.
With the war now lasting over 500 days, the Ukrainian ambassador said that despite the continued attacks and escalation by Russia, there is still hope for peace and an end to the war.
"If Ukrainians have hope, how can the rest of the world not have hope?" he asked. "It should be a hope for the whole world that Ukraine defends the (rule) of international law."