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Evangelicals, one of main targets of Russia in Ukraine

Since the Russian invasion, 600 places of worship have been destroyed, over 30 faith leaders killed or kidnapped, forced expulsions, imprisonments and arrests.

AUTOR 5/Evangelical_Focus MOSCOW|KYIV 20 DE MAYO DE 2024 17:45 h
Central baptist church in Kiev. / [link]avreliy2k[/link], CC0

More than two years after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, the consequences at all levels are devastating.

On of the most targeted groups by Russia in occupied Ukraine are Protestants, only surpassed by members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Time magazine has reported that 34% of the registered religious persecution events had Protestants as victims, and 48% of them were in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Furthermore, there are 600 places of worship destroyed, over thirty cases of religious clergy killed and kidnapped, 109 known cases of interrogations, as well as forced expulsions, imprisonments, arrests, and sometimes even torture.

The most affected evangelical denomination during the Russian invastion are the Baptists (13%), the third largest denomination in Ukraine. Under Russian control, 400 Baptist congregations have disappeared, 17% of the total in Ukraine, says the Time magazine report.

Petro Dudnyk, pastor of the Good News church in Sloviansk, a city of the Donbas region, told radio Svoboda that the reason for the persecution is that the occupying forces “think that Protestants are the American faith, and the Americans are our enemies, so that the enemies must be destroyed”, reports Time.

For Azat Azatyan, a Baptist children's pastor and founder of Garne Misce children’s centre in Zaporizhzhia, who spent 43 days in captivity ans was tortured, “what the Kremlin fears about Protestants is that we follow God’s law, not theirs, and they want to have everything under their control”.


Religious freedom report

Last February, the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance (IRFBA) released a report, denouncing that “religious leaders and denominations perceived as disloyal are persecuted through unfounded accusations of espionage, sectarianism, extremism, or illegal missionary activities”.

“Ukrainian believers face coercion from occupation authorities for mandatory re-registration, acceptance of Russian citizenship, and submission of community member lists. However, even compliance with these demands does not guarantee that re-registration”, the report add.

The IRFBA called the international community to “stand in solidarity with Ukraine, addressing the repercussions of Russian aggression and holding the Russian Federation accountable for flagrant violations of international law, including crimes against humanity and war crimes”.


The Orthodox church

After two years of war, only 4% of Orthodox Ukrainians remain faithful to the Moscow Patriarchate and its leader, Patriarch Kirill. The majority have changed their membership to the Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate.

Kirill openly supports the government in the war and promised “the cleansing of sins” for Russian soldiers dying on the battlefield. Some Orthodox clerics, nevertheless, have also been indicted for questioning the war.

According to the IRFBA, “the involvement of the Moscow Patriarchate, often referred to as the Russian Orthodox Church, in attempting to legitimie Russian aggression and erode Ukrainian sovereignty is unmistakable”.

The Ukrainian Parliament is working on a draft law that would prohibit religious organisations that are controlled from a country waging armed aggression against Ukraine.


Persecution inside Russia

Putin’s pressure on minority faith groups has continued inside Russia as well.

Last August, a court liquidated the leading monitoring group of freedom of religion and belief, SOVA, for “gross and irreparable violations”.

In March 2023, several people were fined for quoting the Bible for “discrediting the armed forces”, and one month later a Russian Baptist pastor in Bryansk was convicted for “illegal missionary work”.

Outside Russia, Yury Sipko, a well-known Russian Baptist pastor who served in the past as head of the Russian Evangelical Baptist Union, was forced to flee into exile to Germany and is not expect to be allowed to return home.

Furthermore, a member of a free evangelical church in Vladivostok, near the border of China and North Korea, was sentenced to two years and six months of jail for refusing to fight for Russia in Ukraine.


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