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WCC condemns Russian raids on civilians

20 January 2023

Adults and children killed in Dnipro by missile strike on flats

Alamy

Rescue workers on Tuesday outside the block of flats struck by a missile in Dnipro at the weekend. At least 40 residents died

Rescue workers on Tuesday outside the block of flats struck by a missile in Dnipro at the weekend. At least 40 residents died

THE World Council of Churches (WCC) has condemned Russian attacks on civilians during its “illegal war against the people of Ukraine”, after the destruction of a block of flats prompted renewed calls for Russia’s leaders to face trial for war crimes.

“The latest attacks have added more civilian lives to the terrible toll of human suffering from Russia’s invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine,” the WCC’s general secretary, the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay, said in a statement on Monday.

“We appeal once again for respect for the principles of international humanitarian law regarding the protection of civilians, for attacks that deliberately target civilian infrastructure to stop, and for an end to this war and its violent violations of law and morality.”

The WCC was reacting to last weekend’s missile strike in Dnipro, in which 45 adults and children were killed. More than 100 people were injured or are reported missing.

Addressing pilgrims in Rome on Wednesday, the Pope said that he shared the “heartbreaking pain of family members” after the Dnipro attack. “Images and testimonies” from the disaster were “a powerful appeal to all consciences”, he said.

The Primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Vlatoslav Shevchuk, deplored the “horrific terrorist attack”. He accused Moscow on Tuesday of shelling hospitals in the southern city of Kherson, and of “looking constantly for new ways to target civilians”.

Metropolitan Onufriy (Berezovsky), Primate of Ukraine’s Moscow-linked Orthodox Church, the UOC, some of whose communities could be outlawed under pending legislation, also warned Russian leaders that they would have to “answer to God for even one drop of blood”.

In a statement on Sunday, he said: “I appeal to the leadership of the Russian Federation: for Christ’s sake, stop shooting at our people. God did not create us to kill each other, but to live peacefully with each other. . . The one who takes someone else’s life will be measured in the same way by God and lose his own life.”

The UOC’s Metropolitan Iriney (Seredniy) of Dnipropetrovsk and Pavlograd said that Russia’s “massive air strike” had inflicted a “terrible disaster” and “appalling tragedy”, which resonated across the region “with pain and suffering”.

Ukrainian officials confirmed that more than 200 flats had been wrecked by the Kh-22 anti-ship missile, make it one of the worst air strikes in terms of deaths since the Russian invasion was ordered in February last year by President Putin. Moscow denied attacking civilians.

In his message, Archbishop Shevchuk said that the Dnipro attack had been the “most tragic” of 57 Russian missile strikes last weekend in his country, where 63,000 alleged war crimes are currently under investigation.

The spokesman for Ukraine’s independent Orthodox Church, the OCU, said that Russia was “reaping the consequences of its own agreement with the devil”.

Archbishop Yevstratiy (Zoria) wrote in a Facebook message on Sunday: “Satan tempts and frightens at the same time — his greatest fear is of those who cannot be seduced and are unafraid of him. Putin cannot perceive that the temptations and fears that affect Russians do not affect Ukrainians. That is why this Satan hates Ukrainians so much, because he can neither lure nor intimidate us.”

The Dnipro attack occurred as several Bills to ban Orthodox parishes professing loyalty to the Moscow Patriarchate were near to being passed in the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada, in the wake of recent security raids on UOC premises.

UOC members have urged President Zelensky’s government to protect their freedoms in a new petition, which both recalls that many church members are fighting with the Ukrainian army against “Russia’s aggressive invasion”, and urges parliamentarians “not to place blame for individual UOC representatives on the entire institution”.

On Monday, the UOC distanced itself from a speech by Russia’s United Nations envoy, Vasiliy Nebenzya, who accused President Zelensky of “authoritarian dictatorship” and sought a Security Council debate on current efforts “to destroy the only canonical church in Ukraine”.

The UOC said that it had not requested “assistance in protecting its rights”, especially given Moscow’s “treacherous armed attack” on Ukraine.

“Concerned that questions about the UOC are being raised by structures that have nothing to do with us, we call on the Russian authorities not to speak on behalf of our Church on international platforms,” the statement said.

“At the same time, we ask our Ukrainian authorities to conduct a balanced religious policy, ensuring equal rights for all religious organisations, so as not to give the aggressor state an excuse to use the religious policy of our state in its own interests.”

Speaking on Monday to Russia’s Radio Vira, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Synodal Department for Relations with Society and Media, Vladimir Legoyda, said that pressure on clergy loyal to the Moscow Patriarchate was “seriously increasing” in Ukraine”.

He said that “manifestations of anti-Christian and anti-religious nationalism” had included the celebration by the OCU’s Primate, Metropolitan Epiphany (Dumenko), of a Christmas liturgy in the Pecherska Lavra monastery, in Kiev, parts of which were handed over to the OCU by Ukrainian officials at the beginning of January.

Meeting General Anatoly Shevchenko, from Kyiv National University’s Military Institute, last week, Metropolitan Epiphany said that efforts were needed to “repel Moscow’s hybrid aggression in the spiritual dimension and religious sphere”. The Moscow Patriarchate, “no matter what it calls itself”, remained “the last significant bridgehead of the enemy inside Ukraine”.

On Tuesday, President Zelensky urged Western governments to increase weapons supplies to Ukraine in expectation of a major new Russian offensive, as the Russian Defence Minister, Sergei Shoigu, confirmed plans to increase Russia’s armed forces to 1.5 million personnel.

A message of condolence from Patriarch Kirill of Moscow for victims of an air crash in Nepal was published this week on the Moscow Patriarchate’s website. It made no mention of deaths and injuries caused by the missile strike at Dnipro.

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