Russian atrocities denounced by Ukrainian religious leaders

Ukrainian church leaders have hardened their tone amid mounting evidence of Russian military atrocities in their country.

“While we received good news of the liberation of the Kyiv region, we also received horrific images of the killing of civilians: it is difficult to explain and understand how the killing of innocents and children can be justified,” said the leader of the Independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. , said Metropolitan Epiphany Doumenko.

“Today we heard that the peoples of Holy Russia are peaceful, while we see the ideology of the ‘Russian world’ justifying murder, violence and war. This ideology must be rejected and condemned, as was the ideology of Nazism.

The message was released ahead of a speech by President Zelensky on Tuesday to the United Nations Security Council, describing how civilians were shot in the streets, thrown into wells and crushed by tanks in a list of war crimes presumed Russians.

The head of Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Svetoslav Shevchuk, said on Tuesday that “macabre scenes” of people “tortured and killed simply because they were Ukrainians and spoke Ukrainian” in towns near the capital had been displayed “before the eyes of the world” in the run-up to Easter. He was counting on the international community, he said, to ensure that the perpetrators would face their trial in Nuremberg.

“Ukraine is facing its Golgotha, its crucifixion, and today I ask all Christians in the world, all people of good will, not to take their eyes off this humiliation and suffering, Ukraine’s dead and wounded.”

Ukrainian officials have confirmed that the remains of hundreds of civilians, many bearing the marks of torture and rape, were found in Irpin, Hostomel, Borodyanka and other northern towns recently abandoned by Russian forces. A mass grave near an Orthodox church in Bucha is still under investigation.

AlamyPresident Zelensky addresses the UN Security Council on Tuesday

In his address to the Security Council, President Zelensky said similar scenes of outrage were repeated across his country. The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, denied that any crimes had been committed.

The European Union and the United States said they were preparing new sanctions against Moscow and pledged to help investigations for future war crimes charges.

In a statement on Monday, the World Council of Churches (WCC) expressed horror at the reported atrocities and called for them to be documented. “War is an inherently conducive context for such brutality, underscoring the need for systems of legal accountability to prosecute perpetrators, in order to curb the worst of humanity,” the statement said. It was signed by the WCC Acting Orthodox General Secretary, Reverend Professor Ioan Sauca.

“We call on those responsible for conceiving, prosecuting and supporting this war to stop the bloodshed and destruction, and to save the lives of all children, women and men in the path of their ambition.”

Speaking during a visit to Malta this weekend, Pope Francis described the conflict as a “sacrilegious war” and told government and civil society officials that Europeans had believed that “the invasions of ‘other countries, savage street fights and atomic threats’ were just ‘dark memories of the distant past’.

In a televised interview on Monday, President Zelensky’s office chief Andrij Jermak welcomed the pope’s revelation to reporters that he plans to visit both Kyiv and neighboring Poland, after new official invitations to both country, and said a wartime papal visit to Ukraine would be “historic and very significant.”

The Vatican’s nuncio in Kyiv, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas, said hospital officials in the capital had confirmed children were being deliberately targeted by Russian snipers.

During a general audience in Rome on Wednesday, Pope Francis said recent news from Ukraine, “instead of bringing relief and hope, rather testifies to new atrocities,” as well as “appalling cruelty.” He went on to say that the blood of innocent “civilians, helpless women and children” in the town of the Bucha massacre “cries out to the sky”.

It was reported this week that Russian units were reinforcing their positions in a bid to establish control of Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region, while preparing for an assault on the Black Sea port of Odessa.

On Monday, the Franciscan Bishop of Odessa, the Very Reverend Stanislav Shyrokoradiuk, told the Italian Servizio Informazione Religiosa that churches had remained open for most of the “poor, elderly and sick” unable to leave, but said that he feared that the historic city of one million would suffer “the same as Bucha and Irpin” if captured by Russian forces.

In Kyiv, the Culture and Information Ministry said it had recorded 135 Russian war crimes against Ukraine’s cultural heritage up to the end of March, including attacks on museums, theaters , libraries and monuments, which are prohibited under the 1954 Hague Convention.

By contrast, Russian officials said this week that “authorized federal executive bodies” continued to “carefully record numerous egregious facts of inhumane treatment of civilians by Kyiv authorities.”

Moscow’s Defense Ministry has accused Ukrainian ‘militants’ of deploying heavy weapons at St. Demetrius Monastery near Sumy after driving out its Orthodox clergy, and stockpiling ammunition at a Jewish synagogue in Uman – a claim denied in a social media post by United Ukraine Jewish Community.

The Moscow-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church posted daily information on its website about aid to war victims and refugees, as well as funerals for slain Ukrainian soldiers.

He reported damage to churches in various cities, including Kharkiv and Luhansk, where the historic Svyatogorsk Lavra monastery was flooded when Russian forces blew up a dam on the Oskil Reservoir.

In a statement this week, the Primate of the Church, Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), said his heart had been “filled with sorrow” at news of the barbarism in Bucha, saying he had entrusted “those who committed these acts of violence in the court of God, from which no one can escape”.

The Russian government has warned of a bill currently before Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, to ban Metropolitan Onufriy’s church on the grounds that its “ruling center” is “located outside Ukraine in a State recognized by law as having carried out military aggression against Ukraine”. .

The Moscow Patriarchate’s deputy head of the Churches’ External Relations Department, Archpriest Nikolay Balashov, told Russia’s Interfax news agency last week that the measure, which President Zelensky opposes, “would trigger an intra-confessional confrontation on a large scale with unpredictable consequences”. by legalizing the “seizures of churches” and “violence targeting the clergy and the faithful”.

In an apparent retaliatory move, the head of government of Russian-occupied Crimea, Serhiy Aksyonov, last week ordered a bill to ban the Independent Church of Ukraine.

Other Moscow-affiliated parishes, including six in Ukraine’s Khmelnytsky region, were reported this week to have switched to the Independent Ukrainian Church, headed by Metropolitan Doumenko, though the Moscow-linked church denied it on Wednesday reports that his cathedral community in Ivano-Frankivsk had also transferred allegiance.

Among the latest reactions to Patriarch Cyril’s apparent endorsement of the Russian invasion, the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarch, Bartholomew, told a congregation at Vespers on Tuesday in Stavrodromi, Greece, that the Ukrainian conflict was “not a holy and blessed war, as some claim, but a diabolical and impious war”.

The Orthodox Church of Georgia, where a fifth of the territory is currently occupied by Russia, expressed “emotional pain and grief” over “military aggression” in a statement on Tuesday, saying it was “particularly difficult to witness the murders of peaceful people, innocent people”.

The Church, whose Patriarch Ilya II has repeatedly condemned the Russian invasion, is set to become the fifth in the world to recognize Metropolitan Epiphany’s new Ukrainian Church at a May plenary of its Holy Synod.

On Tuesday, UNICEF Ukraine director Peter Walsh said 869 schools – 6% of the country’s total – had been destroyed, including 50 in Kharkiv, and 2 million children had fled the war, while another 5.5 million were still alive. facing “physical and psycho-emotional injuries” inside the country.

In a rare joint appeal last week, the RC Shrines of Europe organization, which includes the Marian centers of Fatima, Lourdes and Loreto, urged President Putin to end the war and the European Union to admit Ukraine .

The Fellowship of European Evangelical Theologians also condemned the “unprovoked war” in a statement on its website. It said its members prayed for a just and lasting peace “in the face of authoritarian tyranny” and opposed “the aggression, destruction and genocide perpetrated by the invading forces of the Russian Federation”.

Evangelical church sources said the Bethany Church in Mariupol had been completely destroyed and five brothers had been killed by a Russian shell as they searched for food for people hiding in its basement. ground.

In a statement last Friday, the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations said up to 5,000 civilians had died so far in the besieged port city, and again appealed to EU member states , NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation. in Europe to introduce a no-fly zone over the country, or equip it with “modern air defense systems and fighter jets” to protect civilians from bombs and missile fire.

Speaking in Kyiv on Monday, Metropolitan Epiphany called the latest massacres of civilians a “sign of genocide” and warned that the “victory of tyranny” over his country would “become a new circle of hell on earth”.

“The whole world now sees what we have known for a long time: the enemy does not only wish to achieve certain officially declared objectives, however absurd and false they may be: the enemy has come to our land to erase the very identity of the people Ukrainian, for -Ukrainianize Ukraine,” the Metropolitan told a congregation at the funeral of slain photographer and filmmaker, Maksym Levin.

“Yet the victory already won by the Ukrainian people is getting closer every day – a moral and military victory.”

Martha J. Finley