Russia closes churches in occupied regions of Ukraine

16-10-2023

Eastern Europe

CNE.news

A heavily damaged church in the Kharkiv region amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Photo AFP, Sergey Bobok

The Russian forces continue to close churches in the annexed regions that belonged to Ukraine.

One of the last sealed churches was the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) in Basan. Before that, the same fate befell a Baptist Church in the Zaporizhzia Region and a Catholic Church in Skadovsk in the Kherson region, Forum 18 writes.

The Russian forces disturbed several religious meetings, claiming that these gatherings occurred without the permission of the authorities. They broke into the Catholic Church, saying they suspected the presence of drugs and explosives.

Books

In addition, they accused the (Western-oriented) Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) of meeting as an unregistered religious organisation, which is not allowed in Russia. They filmed the parish priest, Serhi Moskovets, admitting that he had held religious meetings against Russian law and promising not to do it again. In addition, he acknowledged that he possessed anti-Russian books. However, according to Forum 18, it is likely that the priest was forced to make these statements by the Russians.

According to Artyom Sharlay, the head of the Russian Religious Organisations Department in Zaporizhzhia, it is not yet clear whether the church will ever be allowed to open again. "The Orthodox Church of Ukraine is pro-Western, and that is bad", he explained.

Americans

At the end of August, Russian forces searched the Catholic Church of St. Therese in Kherson. They banned the parishioners from using their building for prayer, but the authorities refused to give Forum 18 more information about why.

Sharlay argued to Forum 18 that only "law-abiding" religious communities, "like Baptists and Adventists", would be allowed to hold services in the regions occupied by the Russian authorities. "They face no restrictions, but those that break the law are banned", Sharlay said. He claimed that other religious communities stored weapons, explosives and radio equipment and that they were paid by the Americans.

Detention

However, despite Sharlay's words, Adventists and Baptists cannot be sure that they can meet in freedom, Forum 18 reports. Among the closed churches are also buildings of Seventh-Day Adventists and Baptists. The number of confiscated churches in Zhaporizhzhia is currently at seven.

The Russians do not only close churches but also press criminal charges against religious leaders, Forum 18 reports. These prosecutions do not only affect Christian leaders but also imams, for example. Some of the detainees are even said to be tortured. Others were kept in detention for days, weeks or even months.

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