Putin claims to protect Russian church against “persecution” and “genocide” in Ukraine


Eastern Europe


President Putin says, the Russian church is under attack in Ukraine. Photo AFP, Genya Savilov

At the bottom of the political tension between Russia and Ukraine is religious persecution of Russian-minded people. That becomes clear from the words of President Putin and his Foreign Minister Lavrov.

Ukraine is harassing churchgoers and clergy of the Russian part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. During his address on Monday evening, he announced to recognise the independence of the separatist Ukrainian regions. He said that “Kiev is continuing to prepare a crackdown on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.”

According to Interfax and Ria Novosti, this is “not an emotional but a documented" assessment. “The Ukrainian authorities have cynically turned the tragedy of the church split into an instrument of state policy. The country’s current leadership does not respond to the requests of the Ukrainian citizens to repeal the laws that infringe on the rights of believers,” he went on to say.

Mr Putin said that the parliament in Kiev is voting on bills “directed against the clergy and millions of parishioners”. He did not specify what bills he was speaking of.

No other option

His Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, added that he did “not see any other option” but recognising the two separatist regions. “Throughout these eight years, we have not been looking indifferently at how our compatriots, our citizens, have been mistreated.” Strictly speaking, inhabitants of neighbouring country Ukraine are not “citizens” of Russia.

“I also see an aspect of this, such as the term genocide”, Mr Lavrov said, according to Interfax. Last week, the German Chancellor Scholz criticised that word, but Lavrov still used it. “The fact that they are now trying to support this blatantly neo-Nazi, Bandera regime in Kyiv is a manifestation of genocide,” the minister said. “Everything that is Russian”, including Orthodox people, are under attack in Ukraine, he said.

Although the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate have difficulties in some places and perhaps regions in Ukraine, the Russian branch of the Orthodox Church is still the strongest in the country. According to Credo, the number of Orthodox parishes in Ukraine is even more extensive than that in Russia. This church is still “the largest religious association in the country”.

According to Minister Lavrov, the Ukrainian patriots belong to a "neo-Nazi, Bandera regime". Photo EPA, Sergey Dolzhenko

According to President Putin, the Ukrainian authorities are using “extremist cells, including radical Islamic organisation (…) to commit terrorist acts at critical infrastructure facilities to kidnap Russian citizens”, as cited by Interfax.

The leader of the Ukrainian Muslims, Mufti Said Ismagilov, said to the media that Islamic Ukrainians indeed would defend their country. “But prayers are a must”, he said according to Islam in Ukraine.

Day of prayer

On the other ‘side’, in Ukraine, Protestant Christians had a large-scale day of prayer for peace last Sunday. The activities were coordinated by the Evangelical Church of Grace in Kiev.

“When difficulties and worries come to life, the first thing a Christian has to do is praying”, said Anatoly Kozachok, bishop of the Ukrainian Church of Christians of the Evangelical Faith (UCHVE). “Otherwise, he will fall into turbulence. But we don’t want to fall into turbulence and hopelessness. We want to live in the hope that God’s presence will take all our worries away from our hearts.”, according to the report on Christians for Ukraine.

However, on Monday, the Nadiya Christian Center in the region around Donetsk was hit by two shells. Six windows were damaged. The fragment slammed the front door and the door to the dining room, according to Baptyst.com. The glass was broken after a long night of shelling. The people were sitting in the basement from 11 pm on Sunday. “We sat in the basement all night, singing and praying together”, the people in the centre said. “That night, we were convinced that the Lord had saved us. We believe in Him, He is with us, and He protects us.”



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