of Euromaidan SOS and the Religious Freedom Roundtable in Ukraine
regarding the attack on religious freedom during
the armed aggression of Russia against Ukraine
The armed aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine is accompanied by numerous violations of rights and freedoms, including freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
Russian religious persecution in the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions
Back in 2014, in occupied Donetsk, illegal armed groups controlled by the Russian Federation declared the orthodoxy of the Moscow Patriarchate the main religion of the region and began deliberate persecution of religious minorities. To implement this provision in practice, confessions other than the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate started to be persecuted in the Russian-controlled Ukrainian territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Dozens of churches, prayer houses, and places of worship were captured. Abductions, torture, and extrajudicial executions of clergymen and believers of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (previous name – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate), the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, and a number of Protestant churches (Baptists, Pentecostals, Adventists, Ukrainian Christian Evangelical Church, etc.) became commonplace. The LDS Church (Mormons) and Jehovah's Witnesses were subjected to targeted harassment. As a result, in the Russian-occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, most religious communities have ceased to exist, believers are forced to pray privately or gather clandestinely, and freedom of thought, conscience, and religion has disappeared.
Russian religious persecution in the occupied Crimea
The forced implementation of the Russian legislation has significantly worsened the situation of religious communities and associations in occupied Crimea. Since the beginning of the Russian military intervention on the Crimean Peninsula in February 2014, Ukrainian churches and religious communities have become targets for purposeful harassment of their activities. During the years of occupation, the number of parishes of the OCU reduced from 49 to 5. The occupation authorities of Crimea continue to persecute religious figures and individual believers, in particular Muslims from among the Crimean Tatars, the community of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, evangelical Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses. One of the methods of pressure became the deprivation of ownership of religious buildings of Ukrainian churches through physical seizures and decisions of the courts of the occupation authorities. As a result of Russia's recognition of Jehovah's witnesses as an extremist organization, there are already 5 representatives of this religious group behind bars in Crimea, and many others face many years in prison. Currently, the practice of mass raids on mosques to check the documents of Muslims is widespread in Crimea. The number of cases initiated for belonging to religious organizations recognized as terrorist or extremist in Russia is growing, which is often just a formality with the goal of legalizing the persecution of religious minorities.
Russian crimes against religious figures and sacred places during the war against Ukraine
Religious persecution became much worse during the large-scale armed invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, which began on February 24, 2022, and continues to this day. Targeted attacks and destruction of cathedrals, prayer houses, and other religious buildings, including architectural monuments, were recorded. At least 28 structures of spiritual significance (not including adjacent buildings) have already been damaged in at least six regions of Ukraine: Kyiv, Donetsk, Zhytomyr, Luhansk, Kharkiv, and Chernihiv. The vast majority of religious buildings destroyed and damaged as a result of air bombing and rocket attacks by the Russian invaders are Orthodox cathedrals. Among the affect religious buildings is also the synagogue of the United Jewish community of Ukraine in Kharkiv, mosques in Kostiantynivka and Mariupol of the Donetsk region, and the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary in Pushcha-Vodytsya, near Kyiv. On the night of 13th of March, the Russian forces have shelled the Svyatohirsk Lavra of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, where around a thousand people were located at that moment – more than 30 civilians were wounded. Therefore, Russia is destroying the spiritual heritage of Ukraine, independently of the confessional affiliation of the religious buildings.
During three weeks of military operations, the Russian army killed at least four Christian priests on the territory of Ukraine, captured at least two more (one of them was later released), and there was an attempt of entry into the dwelling of one.
As an example, on February 27, 2022, the priest of the Odesa Diocese of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Fr. Vasilyi Virozub, who was on board the Sapphire rescue ship, which was supposed to pick up the bodies of Ukrainian soldiers killed on the Snake (Zmiinyi) Island, was abducted by Russian troops.
On February 28 in Kyiv Metropolitan Epiphanius (Dumenko), Primate of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), survived an attempted entry into his dwelling on the territory of the St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery. Security has neutralized a Russian sabotage group that tried to enter the territory of the monastery. Also, tags used by the Russian armed forces to direct fire on Ukrainian cities were found and neutralized near the territory.
On March 1 as a result of the shelling by Russian troops of the village of Grabivka in the Kulikovsky district of the Chernihiv region, rector of the Holy Trinity Church of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church hieromonk Feodosiy (Goncharov) has died from a shrapnel wound.
On March 2 the Russian army killed a priest of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Fr. Maksym Kozachyna, who served in a church near the town of Ivankiv, Kyiv region. At the time of the murder, he was wearing the clothes of a clergyman.
On March 5 they also killed the priest of the OCU Fr. Rostyslav Dudarenko. The priest was killed in his native Yasnogorodka village of the Fastiv District of the Kyiv region, but his body was found only on the next day.
On March 5 in Bucha, Kyiv region, a teacher of Church Slavonic and Greek at the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary Oleksandr Kislyuk was shot.
On March 9 in Mariupol, Donetsk region, the Russian military captured two brothers – Mikhail Reznikov, the pastor of the local church, and his brother Andrey Fomenko, who is raising ten foster children.
On March 13 military chaplain Abbot Platon (Morgunov) was killed in Volnovakha, Donetsk region.
On March 14 the dwelling of the priest of the OCU Fr. Oleg Nikolaev from the occupied Berdyansk was searched, he was arrested, and taken to an unknown destination. Fortunately, the priest was eventually released home to his sick wife, who needed constant therapy.
On March 14 the headquarters of the Armed Forces of Ukraine published a report on recorded non-isolated cases of use of civilian infrastructure by Russian troops, in particular churches and other religious facilities, for setting up firing positions, placing weapons and military equipment, which, in addition to endangering the civilian population, is also an act of sacrilege and abuse of the shrine.
Exploiting the Russian Orthodox Church to justify war
Despite the above mentioned, The Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church patriarch of Moscow Kirill (Gundyayev) publicly blessed the Russian army to war against Ukraine, as he said after the liturgy on the feast of the Triumph of orthodoxy in Moscow. And in the response letter to the World Council of Churches dated by March 10, 2022, he spread false narratives of Russian propaganda about the alleged war of the West against Russia, keeping silent about the facts of the terrible destruction of civilians and cities in Ukraine by the Russian aircraft and rocket attacks. Thus, he supported the armed aggression of the Russian Federation and the persecution of other faiths on the territory of Ukraine.
In this regard, Euromaidan SOS, participants of the Religious Freedom Roundtable in Ukraine, and other NGOs that have signed up below call for:
1. International organizations and UN member states – to address the Russian Federation with a demand to end the war against Ukraine and the ongoing offensive on religious freedom within the framework of the war, as well as immediately release all citizens of Ukraine, who were imprisoned on the grounds of professing their religious beliefs in the occupied Crimea and other Ukrainian territories controlled by Russian troops.
2. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Orthodox churches in other countries that are in unity with the Moscow Patriarchate, – to break off relations with the Russian Orthodox Church because of its support for the baseless aggressive war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine.
3. World Council of Churches – to exclude from its membership The Russian Orthodox Church, break off relations with it, and condemn the quasi-religious component of the Russian World ideology, as religion should serve peacebuilding and should not be used to justify the groundless aggressive war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, which is accompanied by the destruction of the civilian population of Ukraine, shelling of schools, kindergartens, hospitals, maternity hospitals, and other critical infrastructure facilities.
4. Churches, religious organizations, and interreligious institutions around the world – to publicly call on the Russian Federation to end the war against Ukraine and condemn the position of the Russian Orthodox Church regarding the support of the baseless aggressive war of the Russian Federation against Ukraine.
The Appeal was signed by:
- Center for Civil Liberties (Olexandra Matviychuk)
- Institute for Religious Freedom (Oleksandr Zaiets, Maksym Vasin)
- Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (Oleksandr Pavlichenko, Tamara Kharchylava)
- Kharkiv Human Rights Group (Evgen Zaharov)
- Crimean Human Rights Group (Olga Skrypnyk)
- Advocacy Advisory Group NGO (Eugenia Zakrevska)
- Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research NGO (Svitlana Kononchuk)
- "Chesno: Movement NGO (Vita Dumanska)
- Anti-Corruption Center NGO (Daria Kalenyuk)
- Regional Center for Human Rights NGO (Mykola Kikkas, Iryna Usmanova)
- Orthodox Church of Ukraine (Archbishop Evstratiy (Zorya))
- All-Ukrainian Union of the Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (Ihor Bandura)
- Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine VAAD (Joseph Zisels)
- Ukrainian Bible Society (Hryhorii Komendant)
- Brotherhood of Independent Churches and Missions of the ECB of Ukraine (Serhiy Debelinsky)
- Ukrainian Christian Evangelical Church (Leonid Padun)
- Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Ukraine "Umma" (Mufti Said Ismagilov)
- Eastern European Institute of Theology (Roman Soloviy)
- Odesa Theological Seminary of Evangelical Baptists (Oleksandr Geichenko)
- International Ecological Academy (Vasyl Kostytskyi)
- Open Orthodox University of St. Sophia the Wisdom (Archpriest Georgyi Kovalenko)
- Kuras Institute for Political and Ethnic Studies at the National Academy of Sciences (Viktor Yelenskyi)
- Zaporizhzhya National University (Mykola Frolov)
- The National University of Ostroh Academy (Andriy Smirnov)
- Ukrainian Association of Religious Studies (Liudmyla Fylypovych)
- Dialogue in Action Initiative (Tetiana Kalenychenko)
- Workshop for Academic Study of Religion NGO (Anna Maria Basauri Zyuzina)
- “Berehynia” All-Ukrainian public movement of mothers and relatives of ATO participants (Alla Makukh)
- Ukrainian National Center for Peacebuilding (Maria Tsypyashchuk)
- National Interest Advocacy Network, ANTS (Hanna Hopko)
- Kyiv Security Forum (Danylo Lubkivsky)
- Euromaidan Press (Oleksandra Shandra)
- Public Space IAC (Alla Prun)
- Media Initiative for Human Rights (Olga Reshetylova)
- State Service of Ukraine for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (Vyacheslav Gorshkov, Igor Lossovsky, Yana Vestel, Yaroslav Kotylko)
- CrimeaSOS NGO (Eugene Yaroshenko)
- DEJURE Foundation (Mikhail Zhernakov)
- Women's Anti-Corruption Movement NGO (Alyona Bereza)
- Center for Liberation Movement Studies NGO (Daria Hirna)
- Ecology – Law – Man (Elena Kravchenko)
- ENGin / The Manoff Foundation (Katerina Manoff)
- Ukrainian Crisis Media Center NGO (Natalia Popovych, Yulia Shmyhalyova)
- Republic Institute, “Active Community” All-Ukrainian Initiative (Oleksandra Hlizhynska)
- Center for Liberal Modernity NGO (Iryna Solonenko)
- IDP of Donbas in Sumy Region NGO (Tatiana Krivonos)
- "Ukrainian House" Crimean Center for Business and Cultural Cooperation NGO (Andriy Shchekun)
- Culture against rudeness NGO (Anna Naronina)
- Liberal Democratic League of Ukraine NGO (Artur Kharitonov)
- CGS Strategy XXI (Mykhailo Gonchar)
- Coalition of Cultural Figures NGO (Iryna Podoliak)
- Youth for Christ – Ukraine NGO (Dmitryi Fedorchak)
- “Unity” Initiative Center (Maria Geletiy, Vladimir Sheigus, Natalia Klymova)
- "Rock" Evangelical Church Rivne (Oleg Bloshchuk)
- Volunteers of Transcarpathia NGO (Vlasta Reipashi)
- Hand of Mercy NGO (Vasily Bidzilya)
- Smidyn Initiative NGO (Oksana Pitsyk)
- Irshavsky Rays NGO (Vira Glushko)
- Politap NGO (Olga Korneva)
- Independents NGO (Svyatoslav Litynsky)
- Space of Freedom Movement (Taras Shamaida)
- New Wave of Zatoka NGO (Nadiya Deinega)
- Movement for Human Life and Dignity NGO (Artur Pogorilenko)
- Ukrainian World NGO (Anastasia Rozlutska)
- Country of Free People NGO (Svetlana Krot)
- Carpathian Horizons NGO (Ruslana Dzhugan)
- Association of Relatives of Kremlin Political Prisoners NGO (Igor Kotelyanets)
- Ukrainian School of Elites NGO (Olena Polkhovska)
- "Action" Human Rights Center NGO (Oksana Mikhalevich)
- Helsinki Initiative-XXI NGO (Oleksandr Stepanenko)
- Black Sea Research Society, Kherson (Mykola Durman)
- Multiclinic CMC (Ilona Plyatek)
- Advocates Europe (Latchezar Popov)
- Martyrs for Christ (Kobus Hanekom)
- Theologian – Politician (Ioannis Orfanoudakis)
- Religious Information Service of Ukraine (Taras Antoshevskyy)
- African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries Incorpotated (Rev. Dr. Celestin Musekura)
- Ukrainian Pentecostal Church (Yuriy Kulakevych)
- Association of Missionary Churches of Evangelical Christians of Ukraine (Viktor Tantsyura)
- "Most Holy Shrine" Church of Christians of the Evangelical Faith (Mykola Povarchuk, Anastasia Povarchuk)
- Christian Rescue Service (Andriy Olenchyk)
- Spirit of Martyrdom International (David Witt)
- Resthaven Inc. (Bron Atterton)
- Ukrainian Compliance Association (Hanna Gorbenko)
- Nansen Foundation (Sergiy Okunev)
- Center for Social Action NGO (Iryna Fedorovich)
- Center for Religious Studies and International Spiritual Relations (Igor Kozlovskiy)
- Department of Theology and Religious Studies under Drahomanov National Pedagogical University (Tatiana Kotlyarova)
- Member of Kremenchuk City Council (Kateryna Musiienko)
- Lutsk City Council (Oleksandr Lazuka)
- Poltava Regional Association of "Light of Life" Christian Churches (Dmytro Laptev)
- "Word of Life" Union of Christian Churches of Ukraine (Andriy Bakala)
- Kościół Zielonoświątkowy (Tomasz Kaczmarek)
- East European Development Institute (Dr. Mridula Ghosh)
- Oriental Studies Circle NGO (Natalia Pavlyk)
- Caritas Ukraine (Rostyslav Kis)
- "Influence Group" Public Holding (Tatiana Durneva)
- Norwegian Helsinki Committee (Gunnar Martin Ekeløve-Slydal)
- Ukrainian Association of Prisoners NGO (Anatoliy Polyakov)
- Evangelical Accrediting Theological Association NGO (Taras N. Dyatlik)
- UCU Institute of Ecumenical Studies (Pavlo Smytsnyuk)
- Doxologia Infonews (Iordan Georgiev)
- Fellowship of Archangel Mikael of Norway (Andreas R.Robberstad)
- Uyghur Human Rights Project (Louisa Greve)
- Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union (Lawrence Lerner)
- Ukrainian Missionary Church (Valeriy Reshetinskiy)
- Pentecostal Church "God's Gift" in Kyiv (Vasyl Bilyk)
- Patmos Institute (Mario Félix Lleonart Barroso)
- Alianza de Iglesias Cubanas No Registradas (Mildrey Betancourt Rodríguez)
- Cristianos Cubanos en Comunión (Ania Josefa Chinea Carmona)
- Look to the Lord (David Warnick)
- European Interreligious Forum for Religious Freedom (Eric Roux)
- Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Office of External Affairs (Dr. Quoc-Hung Tran, MD)
- Global Peace Foundation (Dr. Paul Murray, Vice President Religious Freedom Initiatives)
- Christian Freedom International (Wendy Wright)
- Red Eagle Enteprises (Scott Morgan)
- Center for defence of human rights (Bachittar Singh Ughrha)
- Center for Studies on Freedom of Religion Belief and Conscience, LIREC (Raffaella Di Marzio)
- International Institute for Religious Freedom (Dr. Dennis P. Petri)
- Oxford Islamic information centre (Dr Sheikh Ramzy)
- European Network on Religion & Belief (Mark Ereira-Guyer)
If you want to sign the Appeal, please, fill out this form: https://forms.gle/ZpQDNASw7Awy3uFK8
Photo credit: Evgeniy Maloletka