During the full-scale invasion, Russian troops damaged or wholly destroyed at least 630 churches, prayer houses, and other religious facilities in Ukraine. 

The Institute for Religious Freedom published this new data in the report “The Impact of the Russian Invasion on Faith-Based Communities in Ukraine.” The IRF research contains the results of monitoring and surveys on the situation of Ukrainian religious communities in the territories occupied by Russia.

In addition, IRF recorded seventeen interviews with religious leaders of various denominations about Russian war crimes in Ukraine. These video testimonies are available for watching on YouTube with English subtitles: https://bit.ly/2022-IRF-video-testimonies

Oleksandr Zaiets
Board Chairman of the Institute for Religious Freedom, project manager
The Kremlin uses religion, particularly Russian religious centers, as a tool of war against Ukraine. In addition to propagating hatred of Ukrainians, the Russian authorities in the occupied territories of Ukraine often practice arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, torture, and even murder of Ukrainian religious leaders. Those priests, pastors, imams, etc., who did not agree to collaborate and refused to submit to Russian religious centers are subject to repression.

The IRF report states that most damage was inflicted by Russian missiles, kamikaze drones, and artillery, including targeted attacks on civilian objects. In addition, some places of worship have been deliberately looted by the Russian military, closed, or converted by the occupying authorities into administrative buildings. 

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Most churches, prayer houses, synagogues, and mosques were destroyed in Donetsk region (at least 146), Luhansk region (at least 83), and Kherson region (at least 78). The destruction in Kyiv region, where Russian troops attempted to capture the capital of Ukraine in February-March 2022, was also enormous (73). Due to the ongoing hostilities, the number of destroyed buildings is increasing in Kharkiv region (at least 62), Zaporizhzhia region (at least 51), and Mykolaiv region (at least 41).

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On a confessional basis, Orthodox churches suffered most damage from the Russian aggression – at least 246 in total. Of these, the churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate) suffered the most – at least 187. Also, 59 churches of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine were destroyed or damaged.

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The scale of destruction and looting of evangelical churches is also extensive – at least 206 in total. Among them, the Pentecostal (94), Baptist (60), and Seventh-day Adventist Church (27) prayer houses suffered the most.

Dr. Maksym Vasin
Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Freedom, author of the report, Ph.D. in Law
It is most likely that if Russia retains control over the occupied territories of Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions throughout 2024 and beyond, Ukrainian churches and religious communities in these regions will face the same fate as believers in the parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions occupied since 2014. The Russian occupying authorities will continue to fight any manifestations of dissent, opposition, and Ukrainian identity, particularly religious identity, by enforcing repressive Russian legislation.

Hiding behind slogans of protecting Russian speakers, “denazification,” and “desatanization” of Ukraine, the Kremlin has actually been implementing the ideology of the “Russkiy Mir” (Russian World). As interpreted by Russian propagandists, this ideology comprises the physical destruction of the Ukrainian people as a nation (genocide), the elimination of Ukrainian cultural heritage, the overthrow of the Ukrainian government, and the disappearance of the Ukrainian state.

The Institute for Religious Freedom formulated several recommendations in the report. Among them are the following:

  1. To publicly condemn the Russian World ideology and the position of the Russian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, as well as other Russian religious associations and leaders who participate in the Russian aggression and justify it or promote hatred and genocide of the people of Ukraine.
  2. To strongly and proactively support Ukraine’s efforts to investigate Russian war crimes and prosecute all war criminals.
  3. To introduce personal sanctions against Russian officials, religious leaders, media workers, and other individuals responsible for justifying or carrying out repressions against Ukrainian religious leaders and faith-based communities on the Ukrainian territories controlled by Russia.
  4. To designate the Russian Federation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, considering the constant attacks on the civilian population and critical infrastructure of Ukraine, deliberate exacerbation of the humanitarian crisis, nuclear blackmail, the use of torture, inhuman treatment of prisoners of war, and arbitrarily imprisoned civilians, particularly religious figures.

The Institute for Religious Freedom has prepared a report, “The Impact of the Russian Invasion on Faith-Based Communities in Ukraine,” as part of the Locked Faith project with the support of the peacebuilding organization PAX (Netherlands) in cooperation with Mission Eurasia (USA), the Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine) and representatives of the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations. 

This is the fourth report on Russian war crimes against religious communities prepared with the assistance of the Institute for Religious Freedom since the beginning of Russia's armed aggression against Ukraine. Before that, in September 2022, the IRF published the report “Russian Attacks on Religious Freedom in Ukraine.” In 2018, the report “Religious Freedom at Gunpoint: Russian Terror in the Occupied Territories of Eastern Ukraine” was published. In 2015, with the participation of the IRF, a coalition of human rights organizations published the report “When God Becomes the Weapon.”

Infographics: IRF Ukraine / irf.in.ua