UKRAINE: Almost 500 religious sites destroyed as a result of Russian aggression
IRF (03.02.2023) – https://irs.in.ua/p/139 – As a result of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, at least 494 religious buildings, theological institutions, and sacred places were wholly destroyed, damaged, or looted by the Russian military.
The Ukrainian Institute for Religious Freedom presented this updated data on the impact of the war on Ukrainian religious communities on January 31 and February 1 during the Summit on International Religious Freedom (IRF Summit 2023) held in Washington, D.C.
According to the IRF Ukraine, since the presentation at last year’s IRF Summit, in July 2022, the number of religious infrastructure facilities in Ukraine affected by Russian aggression has more than doubled.
Most churches, mosques, and synagogues were destroyed in Donetsk region (at least 120) and Luhansk region (more than 70). The scale of destruction is also enormous in Kyiv region (70), where desperate battles were fought in defense of the capital, and in Kharkiv region – more than 50 destroyed religious buildings. Russian air raids, including those using Iranian drones, have affected almost all regions of Ukraine and continue to this day.
The Institute for Religious Freedom also documented many cases of seizure of religious buildings in Ukraine and their further use as Russian military bases or to conceal the firing positions of Russian troops. This tactic of the Russian military provokes an increase in the scale of destruction of religious sites in Ukraine.
Churches of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate) suffered the most from Russian aggression – at least 143 were destroyed.
The scale of destruction of evangelical church prayer houses is immense – at least 170 in total, of which most affected were Evangelical Christian churches – 75, Evangelical Baptist Christian prayer houses – 49, and Seventh-day Adventist churches – 24.
The updated IRF data now contains information on the destruction of the Kingdom Halls of Jehovah’s Witnesses – a total of 94 religious buildings, of which seven were utterly destroyed, 17 were severely damaged, and 70 were insignificantly damaged.
The Institute for Religious Freedom also documented targeted attacks on religious figures and believers by the Russian military and intelligence services, primarily in the occupied territories of Ukraine.
In his speech at the summit, IRF executive director Dr. Maksym Vasin stated that believers and clergy often became targets for the Russian occupation authorities because of the Ukrainian language, belonging to a different denomination than the Orthodoxy of the Moscow Patriarchate, or for any other manifestation of Ukrainian identity.
During the Russian occupation, believers of evangelical churches in Ukraine (Pentecostals, Baptists, Adventists, Charismatics, etc.) are particularly affected. Russian soldiers repeatedly threatened the total physical destruction of all evangelical believers, calling them “American spies,” “sectarians,” and “enemies of the Russian Orthodox people.”
Valentyn Syniy, the rector of the Tavriski Christian Institute, which was entirely destroyed by the Russian military, testified on this at the IRF Summit 2023 in Washington, D.C.
One Russian officer told an employee of our institute that “evangelical believers like you should be completely destroyed since you are sectarians and American spies. But a simple shooting will be too easy for you. You need to be buried alive.”
Dmitry Bodyu, a pastor of the Word of Life Church in Melitopol, Zaporizhzhia region, shared his personal story of Russian captivity with the IRF Summit participants. The Russian military seized the church building, and he was imprisoned and told that he would soon be killed. The pastor was able to escape from a Russian prison and evacuate, but for local evangelical believers under Russian occupation, a deadly threat remains.
Also, pastor Bodyu mentioned in his speech that the Russian occupation authorities illegally imprisoned two Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church clergymen in Berdiansk of Zaporizhzhia region. They are Ivan Levitskyi and Bohdan Geleta, who have been in prison for more than three months and are tortured and charged arbitrarily with terrorism and assistance.
During the IRF Summit, a separate panel discussion dedicated to Ukraine was held, which was also attended by the first deputy chairman of the All-Ukrainian Union of the Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists Igor Bandura, first deputy senior bishop of the Ukrainian Pentecostal Church Anatoliy Kozachok, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Organizations of Ukraine Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Ukraine Oleksandr Yazlovetskiy, archpriest of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine Father Andrii Dudchenko and Board Chairman of the Institute for Religious Freedom Oleksandr Zaiets.
In September 2022, the Ukrainian Institute for Religious Freedom published the report “Russian attacks on religious freedom in Ukraine” and video evidence of Russian war crimes against Ukrainian religious communities: https://bit.ly/2022-IRF-video-testimonies.
The updated research, recently presented in Washington, D.C., was carried out by the IRF Ukraine with the support of the peacebuilding movement PAX (Netherlands) and Mission Eurasia (USA).