This is just one incident “part of a wider systemic religious persecution campaign in occupied Ukraine,” according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), an American research organization. Though significantly underreported in the U.S. media, Russia has been waging a brutal campaign against Christians and religious minorities in Ukraine.
Russian soldiers have destroyed, damaged or looted nearly 500 religious buildings, theological institutions and sacred places in Ukraine since the war began. Russia has also murdered at least 26 religious leaders while imprisoning or torturing many others. More are missing or unaccounted for.
Evangelical Christians in Ukraine are frequently threatened, labeled by Russian forces as “American spies” and “enemies of the Russian Orthodox people.” During a church service in September 2022, Russian soldiers detained Mykhailo Britsyn, a pastor in Melitopol, Ukraine for providing humanitarian aid to area residents who were displaced because of the war. On Easter Sunday of this year, the Russian military besieged a church in the city of Nikopol, injuring two civilians.
These targeted attacks, and others like them, have led the ISW to declare Russia’s behavior to be a cultural genocide campaign. The U.S. State Department has designated Russia as a Country of Particular Concern for engaging in continuous systematic violations of religious freedom.
Churches are soft targets that have little security and make an easy conquest for an invading army. Religious symbols hold significant cultural and spiritual value for communities, and Russian attacks on these sacred spaces are deliberate attempts to demoralize Ukrainians while undermining their identity and heritage.
Leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church have helped justify the war by giving it their blessing and condoning the violence through rhetoric cloaked in religious language. These leaders also view the Orthodox Church of Ukraine as illegitimate, giving an additional pretext for permitting the invasion.
Just as the International Criminal Court has issued Vladimir Putin an arrest warrant for war crimes over the forced deportation of thousands of Ukranian children, the international community must hold Russia’s military and church leaders accountable for their war on religion in the name of Christianity.
About The Author
John Depenbrok is a staff writer for Global Christian Relief, a nonprofit Christian ministry that works to strengthen persecuted believers and raise awareness regarding Christian persecution. For more information, visit our website at GlobalChristianRelief.org.