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Reject ‘pseudo-referendums’ in occupied territories, Ukrainian religious leaders urge

30 September 2022


A fire in St Nicholas’s, Kupiansk, after Russian shelling, on Monday

A fire in St Nicholas’s, Kupiansk, after Russian shelling, on Monday

RELIGIOUS leaders in Ukraine have urged the international community not to recognise “pseudo-referendums” to join parts of their country to Russia, and have accused Moscow of violating “all legal norms” by deporting three million civilians since its invasion in February.

“The holding of pseudo-referendums in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson, before machine-gun barrels and under military occupation, when there is no personal freedom or respect for human dignity, is a mockery of democracy,” an appeal from the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations said.

“We urge all countries of the world not to recognise them and all citizens of Ukraine not to participate, in line with their responsibility to God and their own conscience.”

The appeal was issued as voting continued earlier this week under police and military supervision, amid fears that the four regions could be declared part of Russia when President Putin addresses parliamentarians this Friday, a week after ordering a mass mobilisation and threatening a resort to nuclear weapons.

The appeal said that Ukraine held “integral and inviolable” sovereignty over all its national territory, despite Moscow’s efforts “to destroy the Ukrainian state”.

Any new “criminal plan of annexation”, following that of the Crimean peninsula in 2014, would violate “not only human laws for the coexistence of peoples, but also corresponding prescriptions of Christian, Islamic and Jewish holy scriptures”, the Council warned.

In a separate message, the Council said that Russia’s “unprovoked attack” had forced 12 million Ukrainians from their homes, and that civilian casualties were “much higher” than the figures of 5587 killed and 7890 injured, given by the United Nations.

The message said that more than three million Ukrainians had also been deported “voluntarily or forcibly” to Russia, with many “subjected to brutal torture, physical and psychological pressure, and kept in inhumane conditions” in violation of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law.

“We appeal to the world community and all international organisations, which are supposed to protect people’s rights and guarantee world security, to assist in returning home victims of Russian aggression, military prisoners and civilian hostages — all those who were forcibly taken to the territory of the aggressor country,” the Council said.

President Putin’s announcement on Wednesday of last week that at least 300,000 reservists were being immediately called up to fight, in the face of a Ukrainian counter-offensive, sparked protests and mass arrests across Russia, as well as a flight of tens of thousands of military-age citizens abroad.

The Primate of the Moscow-affiliated Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), who attended the Council meeting, said in a Sunday sermon that he prayed that God would calm “those who today kill our people and destroy our cities and villages”.

The Moscow Patriarchate’s Chancellor, Metropolitan Dionysius of Voskresensk, told the Rossiya-24 TV channel, however, that young Russians had a duty to “take up arms and protect their loved ones” in “a war for justice and truth”. Peace “cannot be achieved without military help”, he said.

During a Sunday liturgy at Peredelkino, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow prayed for a military victory against “those wishing to fight against Holy Russia, and divide and destroy her one people”, as well as those “who tear apart in a darkening of minds and hardening of hearts” the unity of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Preaching at the same event, the Patriarch expressed the hope that the Ukrainian war would soon be “blotted from memory”, without causing “a wave of bitterness and alienation” between Russia’s “fraternal peoples”.

He continued: “At the same time, the Church is aware that if someone, driven by duty and fulfilling an oath, remains true to his calling and dies in line of military duty, then he undoubtedly commits an act tantamount to sacrificing himself for others. We believe this sacrifice washes away all the sins such a person has committed.”

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