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Ukrainian church leaders rejoice at progress in war  

16 September 2022


The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, visits the de-occupied city of Izyum in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine, on Wednesday

The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, visits the de-occupied city of Izyum in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine, on Wednesday

UKRAINIAN church leaders have welcomed their country’s dramatic counter-offensive against Russia this week.

Ukrainian tanks and armoured vehicles, marked with white crosses, were reported by Tuesday night to have recaptured at least 2300 square miles of land around the north-eastern city of Kharkiv, as well as further territory close to Kherson in the south.

A spokesman for the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, said that Russian forces had merely “regrouped”, as retaliatory missile strikes caused power cuts across the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions.

Speaking on Monday, however, President Zelensky said that Russian troops were “in a panic”, as his forces moved to “liberate all temporarily occupied territories”. He also praised Ukraine’s military chaplains for “praying for the lives of our soldiers”.

Preaching on Sunday at Ternopil, where he also laid the foundation stone for a new cathedral, the head of Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church, or PCU, Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), said that Christians were “rejoicing” at the latest military successes, and praying that “the Lord will help overcome evil, and lead us all to victory and a just peace”.

A spokesman for the PCU, Archbishop Eustratius (Zorya), warned in a Facebook message that those who had supported the occupation, including the Orthodox Metropolitan Elisei (Ivanov) of Izyum, which was recaptured on Saturday, could expect justice.

Preaching in Moscow the same day, however, Russia’s Patriarch Kirill praised his country for sticking to its “special historical path” and “worldwide fateful mission”.

The pastor to Ukrainians at the International Christian Church of Faith, Barnet, in north London, Yevgen Yakushev, said this week: “Though I’m not a military person, I think the Ukrainian side has played its hand well.

“The Russians already lack manpower; their soldiers don’t want to fight, and are abandoning their equipment. Meanwhile, at least a million young Ukrainian men are still waiting to join the army, with crucial support from the United Kingdom and other Western countries. It’s quite possible this war could be finished within a month.”

Pastor Yakushev, an Evangelical who is originally from Mariupol, said that he had returned to Ukraine when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and had backed a separatist insurgency, and helped dig trenches to protect his hometown from capture.

He said, however, that he had lost touch in March with his Mariupol family, most of whom later escaped from the Azov Sea port after hiding out in a church cellar, only to hear later that his 81-year-old mother was killed in her bed when Russian forces shelled her apartment block.

He said that Ukrainians were well aware that the Russian Orthodox Church was used as a “tool of influence” by President Putin and did “whatever his government wants”.

He went on to say, however, that some Protestant leaders had said “very similar things” about Russia’s “sacred duty to save Ukrainians”.

“They, too, are preaching a twisted gospel and distorting Christ’s teachings for their own interests,” he said. “At this stage, while they don’t wish to listen, and still adamantly believe they’re doing the right things, there is no point talking to them. Once Ukraine prevails, and their forces are destroyed and demoralised, that will be the moment to open their eyes and help them see how lost they are.”

Pastor Yakushev said that he believed that most Ukrainians had been relieved when Patriarch Kirill cancelled a projected meeting in Kazakhstan with Pope Francis, who urged an end to the “senseless and tragic war” when he arrived in Nur-Sultan on Tuesday for a world interfaith congress.

He said that Pope Francis remained “very determined” to visit Ukraine, perhaps in October, but was unlikely to be able to “act as peacemaker” unless Russia effectively lost the war.

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